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Spam knows no boundaries

E-mail woes hit Congress hard.

I came in this morning and deleted my customary 100 messages without reading them. I don’t have the most sophisticated filtering system on my e-mail. It mostly consists of me and my own pattern-matching of subject lines like “All natural alternative to Viagra,” “Fire your boss,” “Earn thousands of dollars per day from home,” “Get out of debt,” “Never pay taxes again,” “Find out anything on anyone,” and my personal favorite, “Add inches to your penis.” Since I got in, I’ve deleted another 60 messages.

I’ve determined that there are about 20 spam messages that are rephrased and resent every Sunday night. So when I come in on Monday morning, I usually have four copies of each. The beauty is, my personal filtering system trashes them all in just a few clicks. Occasionally, I’ll accidentally trash important items. But that’s better than reading (proving to spammers that I have an open e-mail account) and deleting hundreds of messages per day.

The downside is, my colleagues sometimes don’t get replies to their e-mail queries and are forced to resend messages. But they know the drill. Anyone on the Net knows that spam has escalated to outrageous proportions and we all just deal with it like snow in Minneapolis or traffic in Seattle. Shovel a little spam and you can walk to your car to face the daily traffic jam.

One thing that hadn’t occurred to me is that what’s true in business must also be true in politics. And, as a story on our site describes, it’s even worse for congressional leaders. Already at crisis levels, e-mail to Congress is increasing by about a million messages per month. Rather than advertisements for Viagra (which they probably also get), most of the new messages consist of lobbying.

The end result is the same as it ever was: Those who have the money to send lobbying spam to legislators prevent those who don’t have the funds from communicating with them. Far from enabling a more representational government, e-mail has made it harder to voice our views.

The good news is, we may yet get spam legislation as legislators struggle with even more spam than business people. The bad news is, it will take a long time before e-mail becomes an effective way to get our voices heard.

James Mathewson is editorial director of and ComputerUser magazine. Check out his Cover story in ComputerUser magazine this month.

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