This message cannot be considered spam


Every once in a while I get spam, usually from a foreign country, that contains the (in)famous Murkowski statement.

The information contained in this e-mail transmission is confidential and may be privileged. It is intended only for the addressee(s) stated above. If you are not an addressee, any use, dissemination, distribution, publication, or copying of the information contained in this e-mail is strictly prohibited. Under Bill 1618 Title III passed by the 105th U.S. Congress this mail cannot be considered Spam as long as we include Contact Information and a method to be removed from our mailing list.

There’s so much here that is wrong I almost don’t even know where to start.
So let’s start with the bill.
S.1618 is short for “Senate bill 1618.” It was actually passed by the 103rd Congress. There was a companion bill H.R. 4176 that was never passed by the House.
Now, those of us who grew up watching SchoolHouse Rock know that before a bill becomes a law it must pass both houses of Congress and then go to the President to be signed into a law. Those of us who had a government class also know there are differences between the two bills passed they must be resolved in committee and then voted on again before being sent to the President.
S1618 was one of the “unlucky” bills, it died in committee. But spammers jumped on the opportunity to tell recipients that we couldn’t think their blasts were spam so they created the “Murk” text that I copied above.
Of course, most of the spam I get claiming I cannot consider it spam doesn’t actually comply with the just-a-bill called S.1618. Much like most of the spam I get claiming to be CAN SPAM compliant isn’t. If you have to tell me you’re complying with a law, chances are you’re lying to me.
Disclaimers about sharing emails are on pretty shaky ground. In some very, very narrowly defined contexts this type of disclaimer may have some level of legal standing. But for the most part they’re just a waste of electrons. This is even more true when the mail isn’t being sent to a specific person, but is blasted out to addresses abandoned a decade ago.
To recap.

  • Senders can’t stop receivers from publishing emails.
  • There is no “addressee” stated above. The address you mailed is a spamtrap.
  • I can consider any email I want spam.
  • S.1618 is a bill that passed the Senate in the previous millennium and never went anywhere.
  • S.1618 never said mail couldn’t be considered spam.
  • Even if S.1618 said mail could be considered spam, this message doesn’t comply with the law.

The use of a “murk disclaimer” were so common, and the lack disclaimers for opt-in mail meant that this phrasing became content that a lot of senders used for their filtering decisions. I expect there are still filters out there triggering on the disclaimer. Those filters are, sadly, still catching spam.

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  • I wish I could find the first lawyer who put a confidentiality notice in his e-mail, go back in time, and strangle him in his cradle.
    There was apparently a small amount of merit in putting such a note on faxes sent from one lawyer to another, since hitting the wrong speed dial button was common, and lawyers have an ethical duty not to benefit from each other’s mistakes, that was then, this is now, e-mail is not a fax, and 99.9% of us getting this crud are not lawyers.

  • Similarly to how the subtext of Verizon’s latest ad campaign (“uploads as fast as downloads!”) is really “we don’t understand how the internet works, but we’re pretty sure you don’t either”, the subtext of an email .sig confidentiality notice is “I don’t understand how IT law works, but I’m pretty sure you don’t either”. It manages to be insulting to both the reader AND the writer.

  • Personally I have a ton of love for those who proclaim ‘we are CANSPAM Compliant!’ as a measure of the quality of their processes, given CANSPAM is still by any measure the lowest common denominator for sending email. Tell me you are CASL-compliant and I might be impressed.

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