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This 32 message thread spans 2 pages: 32 ( [1] 2 > >     
Can you go to jail for filtering email?
The answer is YES if it has an USPS Electronic Postmark
cyril kearney

 2:45 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

"Americans trust the Postal Service when they communicate via hardcopy mail,” said Deputy Postmaster General John M. Nolan. “We believe that the USPS Electronic Postmark adds a comparable level of trust to electronic correspondence and transactions"

A new type of email is now on the Internet. This email has the same rights and priveledges as postal mail.

In a nutshell webmaster's that tamper with email with an Electronic Postmark, read it or prevent its delivery are open to prosecution. It IS a crime.

Here's the USPS site url. Read it and if you are filtering anyone else's mail except your own, you might want to call your legal counsel before continuing.


Here's the law cited on the USPS site.


I like to suggest that we limit discussion to the legal issues in this thread.

If anyone is interested they might start two new threads: 1 the benefits from the Electronic Postmark and 2 the downside of the EPM.

It seems clear to me that businesses will begin to use it to ensure that their emails are delivered to their opted-in customers. This will run afoul of homegrown filters and all the filter software I am aware of.



 3:02 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Physical post marked mail, actual paper mail shows value of which the advertiser paid to advertise. There is no way in I will allow the USPS to send me mail via spam. They raise the price of stamps blaiming the Internet and now they wanna profit even more so off of the Internet, think prices of stamps will drop from their profiting from the net? Don't think so. FILTER THE USPS.


 3:06 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Last time I checked, I could take all my mail and drop it right in the trash, I don't have to open, read it, I don't even have acknowledge I received it unless someone asks for a signature. I certainly don't see why that would change for email.

cyril kearney

 3:09 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

You may do whatever you want with your OWN mail, but as a webmaster you may not destroy someone else's email with an Electronic Postmark.

My reading of the law is that to do so to someone else's email would be a crime.


 3:11 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

In the US, we break sooooo many compliance regulations each and every day (known and unknown). One of my jobs in the real world is assessing how the negative ROI of the cost of compliance is best minimized. I'll add this one to the list somewhere (and keep on filtering the company email).


 3:14 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

If it is really a serious issue, than what is the problem in hosting a domain's mail abroad. Just do the filtering in Canada or Mexico or anywhere else.


 3:21 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

The problem isn't legitimate email, the problem is with email harvesters and the people selling email lists.

If a business wants to filter the email they are going to do so and people will be left checking their personal email at home.

This looks like another short-sighted attempt by an agency to regulate something that is technologically beyond them.

cyril kearney

 3:28 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

The wire fraud statues are extend to any email with an Electonic Postmark. The postal inspectors will work to prosecute email fraud now. So the consumer gets some additional protection under this law.

Some industries like the brokerage industry already is prevented by regulators like the SEC from filtering and destroying inbound email. They have collect 8.5 million dollars from brokerage firms that did not comply.

I think the burden of compliance will fall on companies like Earthlink and AOL.

cyril kearney

 3:31 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I expect that the economics are against the email harvester having an Electronic Postmark. So the filtering of non-EPM email would not be a crime.


 4:56 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Interesting 'new' law or application of a law. Could you not get around it by having the users request or even pay extra for the filtering service. Then they have explictly asked for you to filter their e-mail (kinda like your the butler of the house throwing out the ads for pizza before the master of the house even sees the mail)?

..... Shane


 5:34 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

The punishment is only enforced if the offense is committed for purposes of commercial advantage, malicious destruction or damage, or private commercial gain.

The spammers might think otherwise, but I'd hardly consider spam filtering as malicious destruction or damage.


 6:19 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

First, electronic postmarks don't change anything in the legal situation. They only make it easier to prove what actually happened in case of a conflict.

(c) Exceptions. -

Subsection (a) of this section does not apply with respect to conduct authorized -

(1) by the person or entity providing a wire or electronic communications service;

(2) by a user of that service with respect to a communication of or intended for that user; or

(3) in section 2703, 2704 or 2518 of this title

In other words, if a person has asked you to filter their mail for them, then you're explicitly protected from any punishment under that law, whether the filtered messages have an electronic-postmark or not.

Filtering user mail without the consent of the user is a stupid thing to do to begin with. Note that for business mail, the employer is entitled to filter anything in most cases (with certain industry specific exceptions, eg. in the banking sector).


 7:07 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Interesting thread, but what does this have to do with advertising sales and affiliate programs?



 7:39 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

"The following statutes are believed to apply to the USPS EPM in the electronic world."

I guess it would depend on who else "believes".

It almost sounds like a scam...these pills are believed to...

If its real, FEDEX will probably come up with something faster and cheaper.

cyril kearney

 8:44 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

I posted the links to the United States Post Offrice and an online copy of the law from the Cornell Law School site.

So I believe the Electronic Postmark exists. I am not a lawyer so I can tell you what I believe I read but I can't give you a legal opinion.

I am sure that you did not want to imply that my post is a scam.

To the extent that people sell ads in newletters that get sent by email and that others email advertisements, I think the topic is on the right forum.

All the forums at webmasterworld are targeted at webmasters so I think it is right to explore this topic from the webmasters point of view.

You might argue that the eCommerce forum is a better place, but the moderator moved another email related subject of mine to this forum.


 9:18 pm on Mar 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hi Cyril!

>I am sure that you did not want to imply that my post is a scam.

You are right, I was referring to the copy written at the USPS site, not your post.

It looks like they might be implying some kind of "bullet proof" delivery...I wouldn't know whether to believe them or not.


 3:43 am on Mar 12, 2003 (gmt 0)



 9:40 am on Mar 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's obvious that the "information" on the USPS site is intentionally vague, since they can't really support most of their own claims.

In its purpose, this Electronic Postmark is absolutely equivalent to eg. a PGP signature. Just that it isn't supported by a grassroots "network of trust", but by a big-brother like central institution. All it does is giving the recipient a way to verify that the sender of the message really is who they claim to be, and that the content of the message wasn't modified during transmission. In other words, the term "postmark" is completely misleading, as it has nothing in common with traditional postage stamps.

It does not pose any other obligations on the recipient than is already the case with a standard e-mail. It does not garantee delivery. It does not offer proof of delivery (unless maybe if the recipient cross checks the signature with the USPS). And it certainly doesn't change the status of people who filter mail either for themselfes or for others.

Now I'd be all for it if services like MSN and AOL were to use smart mail filters instead of the terminally stupid ones they currently have in place. But if that ever happens, then it probably won't be the consequence of some sloppy USPS web page writeup.


 2:51 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I cannot see how they can make it illegal for me to tamper with something that is on my server that I pay for. In Snail Mail terms USPS controls the Trucks/PO Boxes/Mail Boxes/Buildings/Bags/Plains etc etc that move the mail. They pay for it. It's their property. It's illegal for me to do something they do not authorize.

Now how can it be illegal for me to touch something that is on my server that I pay for and that I control? I cannot see how it can be and I cannot see how USPS can enforce this.

If they want to offer such a service they should/will have to buy their own servers and bandwidth to host and move the mail. Or maybe they are going to offer all use EMail Postmasters part of the proffit to ensure we enforce what they want to sell?


 3:57 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'd be inclined to let through e-mails where somebody had paid to mail it. The reason spam exists is because there is almost no cost, so you might as well mass-mail information about bleeding gums, gender-specific body enhancements, get-rich quick schemes, etc., instead of trying to target users who might actually be interested.

Snail mail direct marketing has never gotten out of control because it costs money, and failure to target one's market is a quick road to bankruptcy.


 4:22 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Seems to me that an USPS electronic postmark might constitute legal notification of something. If there is a legal requirement in a contract that I notify you by a certain day and I send an email with an electronic postmark, it might fill the requirement.

But until this is hashed out in court, I'd send a paper copy, too!


 4:55 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I doubt you will see the USPS actually enforcing this in the field. Have you ever tried to get the USPS to investigate theft of real mail? Good luck.


 6:40 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Good point, Brad. I can really see the Postal Inspectors crashing through your door, and informing you "That V*agra e-mail you deleted was USPS certified... you are under arrest!" ;)

cyril kearney

 7:04 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm inclined to agree with you. However one online service is quoted as dropping a billion messages a month. If that service were violating the law; I think they would be a more logical first target for the Postal Inspectors.

However, it is still unclear just what protection the Electron Postmark confers on an email.


 7:21 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is obviously a pitiful attempt for the postal system to recoup losses that have been incurred by the increasing use of e-mail.

What would you ever need an e-postmark when you can just encrypt the mail so that no one can read besides another keyholder?



 8:12 pm on Mar 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Perhaps lawman can jump in on this one and provide a more educated legal opinion on this topic.

However, I believe this may be an attempt by the US government to cut down on the amount of paperwork filed with the courts. I know many court documents can now be filed electronically. I would assume that this is an extension of that.

It would make it easier for law firms and government agencies to file court documents and notify various parties that they have been named in legal actions. It also is a way to cut costs in the long run. (No one's mentioned what this Electronic Postmark application costs, but I'm assuming it ain't cheap.)

I'm guessing that, by extension, the purpose of this postmark is to make it harder for individuals to evade service of legal documents, such as divorce papers, traffic violations/tickets by mail, etc.

I would also guess it could work to our advantage in that we could use it, as someone else suggested, to say "Pay up, deadbeat, or else!"

As far as spam is concerned, this might make it easier in some ways to slow down how much spam you receive. If the courts require spammers to use the electronic postmark and only send "spam" to those folks who don't opt-out (kind of like they're doing with phone numbers), it could become a violation of federal law to spam certain folks.

But, of course, I'm just guessing here. I'm not a lawyer - only an ex-legal secretary, so my opinions and random thoughts on this topic don't count for much in terms of an educated legal opinion. ;)


 8:56 pm on Mar 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

How exactly are recipients going to know that there is a postmark? Is this going to be indicated via a "non-corruptible"<sneering laugh> subject line?
Is the USPS going to redesign mailserver protocols?

This is laughable on its face.
Let say I am a spammaster. I just go to my PO, signup for postmarking, send out my 1 jillion spammails, then commence to legally whooping the a**es of folks who filter me?

All things being equal<sure they are> the real world law regarding direct mail would most likely need to apply. Bulk mail (1st 2nd and 3rd class bulk rate mail) is required to be delivered, regardless of the receiver.

E.G. I CANNOT tell the postmaster that I do not want bulk mail in my mailbox. Believe me, I've tried. I also cannot tell the letter carrier that comes to my home to toss bulk advertising into the trash can next to my mailbox.

This is going to be interesting.

cyril kearney

 9:24 pm on Mar 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

With Postal Mail you can contact your Post Office and file a request to stop getting bulk addvertising. The Post Office maintains a suppression file that must be used on all discounted bulk mail. If my memory is right the suppression file may not be older than 6 weeks.

In Direct Mail this is called the 'nixie' file. The DMA also has a suppression file I think, but I am not sure.

The new Telemarketing law also has pervisions for a 'nixie' file.


 9:53 pm on Mar 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

You are correct that I can get on the DMA list. Thank you. I am already there. I cannot however stop the receipt of Postal Patron Local (resident) addressed mail - the true equivalent of anybody@domainaddress spam. Straight from the postmasters mouth. (My family owns the post office building he works in - which still does not cut me any slack.)

Tying this to the USPS Electonic postmark, they would have a vested interest in ALLOWING bulk spammers to use the service - at discounted rates of course. At last check, real world bulk mail accounted for nearly 80% of USPS revenue.

I am assuming however that this would be more usefull in assigning "evidence-ability" to email, such as sending a registered or certified letter. From a business point of view, If I thought an issue was important enough to buy USPS "protection", I'd probably go to a real world Post Office, rather than trust email with delicate matters.

This will be one to watch.


 10:18 pm on Mar 18, 2003 (gmt 0)

How exactly are recipients going to know that there is a postmark?

It's an electronic signature. Such a signature is essentially an encrypted hash of the message. In the case of PGP, it's encrypted with the private key of the sender, so that you can decrypt and check it with their public key. You can check the validity (and identity) of that public key by reference through other people that signed it (the "network of trust"). I assume that the keys to your USPS "postmarks" would be centrally maintained by them, but they're vague about the details.

In any case, a signature can be included in a header, or simply appended to the message. It can't be tampered with, because it depends both on the message content *and* an external reference source. Of course it can be "corrupted", which renders it invalid. A message with an invalid signature/postmark is equivalent to a message without any signature. As a consequence, signatures are only useful for the recipient in order to verify the sender and content of a message. It is not possible for the sender to base any special rights on having sent a signed message (unless intact delivery gets confirmed through other channels).

I CANNOT tell the postmaster that I do not want bulk mail in my mailbox.

He who pays for the transport decides where it is delivered. Since the sender pays all the transport costs of postal mail, the post office has to deliver all that is personally addressed. Since the recipient pays most of the transport costs of e-mail, the situation there is very different. Note that "electronic postmarks" don't pay for the transport, despite their misleading name. In fact, the USPS isn't involved in the transport of your e-mail at all, so they can't regulate it in any way either.

This 32 message thread spans 2 pages: 32 ( [1] 2 > >
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