As of this morning, the threat of legal action by Mark Towner has been withdrawn. Through further e-mail conversations, I have the following facts to add:
- Mark claims he got most of his e-mail addresses from attendees of GOP functions in 2000 and 2004, especially precinct chairs, vice-chairs and secretaries. If you've ever been to one of these events and handed out your e-mail address, Mark probably got it that way. I don't think this adds up to 15,000 subscribers as he claims. This means that, intentionally or unintentionally, the Utah Republican Party has assisted Mr. Towner in building a giant spam database.
- His goal is to build "the largest email and text message database in the country." That's right: he wants to spam your cell phone too.
- He fully admits that many addresses are NOT opt-in and would likely violate the AUP/ToS for almost every domestic ISP and mailing list service.
- Most disturbingly, he resorts to using harvesting and spear phishing techniques to increase subscribers.
Are any of these things illegal? No, they are not. Are they highly unethical? Most definitely. Nobody should do business with or associate with someone who will use the same techniques as the Russian mafia, Nigerian 419ers and porn spammers to get their message out, even if it doesn't technically violate any current law within Utah or the federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. While I can't prove that he stole or otherwise appropriated the subscriber list from Utah Policy Daily, he asserts that his database contains over 50,000 addresses and his willingness to violate other policies to increase it would suggest that this is not unlikely. Absent a response from Lavar Webb, we may never know.
What this all highlights is the need for Utah to adopt and enforce a tough anti-spam law covering both unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE) and unsolicited bulk e-mail (UBE), the latter of which is the kind that Mr. Towner uses. There is simply no excuse for anyone to be constantly bombarded by a flood of e-mail messages from someone willing to violate the unspoken and unwritten social contracts of the Internet and the AUP/ToS of any ISP or mailing list provider in the US. I plan to work on drafting a proposal to e-mail to legislators to see if they will be willing to back tougher anti-spam laws to prevent these kinds of abuses.
In the meantime, make the AUP/ToS your friend. If you get unsolicited political messages, find out where they came from and file abuse complaints with the ISP and mailing list provider and encourage others who have been similarly spammed to do so as well. Let's do what we can to put spam back in the can.