James Madison – 18th Century Spammer?

by Jason Fischer

Virginia’s Attorney General is trying to override a ruling of that state’s highest court, which struck down an anti-spam law as violating the First Amendment. The law, as written, did not limit potential violations to the sending of purely commercial spam emails. Since the legislation made it possible to prosecute senders of, for example, bulk political emails, Virginia’s Supreme Court held that it was no good.

“[I]f the Federalist Papers were written today and disseminated by e-mail, the sender would be guilty of a felony under Virginia’s anti-spam statute.” (source)

What about that Algerian prince who keeps contacting me? Are his emails “political” speech, like the Federalist Papers?

Personally, I have a hard time accepting that the Framers intended that stuffing my Inbox with unsolicited communications, whether containing commercial speech, political speech, or otherwise, should be a fundamental right. The concept of Free Speech, as I understand it, is meant to protect one’s ability to express their own viewpoint and opinion, without fear of persecution. If someone doesn’t like my particular viewpoint, they should be able to ignore it by refusing to purchase the newspaper that features my editorial, or changing the channel, or simply not listening. The analogy to bulk email is imperfect; I cannot “ignore” or “refuse to accept” an unsolicited communication from a spam emailer. Unless I had “opted in” to receive The Federalist Papers as an email, I would not have wanted Madison and Hamilton sending me their political message.

I guess Harbin and I won’t agree on this one.

3 Responses to James Madison – 18th Century Spammer?

  1. […] product. While the statute has been declared unconstitutional, the Attorney General for the State has decided to take the matter upto the Supreme Court and ask the decision to be […]

  2. It begs the question though — if we’re shifting from a society where people stand on soap boxes, which is basically spam, to one in which people communicate by test message, email and youtube, at what point might the unsolicited email be considered in the mainstream of social discourse?

  3. Tanner Andrews says:

    People who stand on soap boxes are not spending my money (consuming my resources). Users pay to receive text messages and junk e-mail, even if it the cost is merely buried in the monthly server bill.

    That is the difference between the soap box and spam, really. In one case, I’m paying to provide the resources. If I am not personally writing a check, such as for this little posting, I am fairly assured that someone who _is_ writing a check is doing so, at least in part, so that I may post this.

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