Buried within the dense language of the CAN-SPAM Act was an unusual enforcement provision overlooked by many people. Under the new law, the FTC was required to consider a bounty system for those who tracked down illegal spammers. The authors of CAN-SPAM proposed rewards of "not less than 20 percent of the total civil penalty collected" by the FTC. Lawmakers gave the agency until September 2004 to report back on the plan's feasibility.
The idea of paying monetary rewards to anti-spammers was spawned in September 2002 by Lawrence Lessig, an Internet visionary and professor at Stanford Law School. In an op-ed piece, Lessig suggested that spam would abate if the government required spammers to tag their messages as such and forced spammers who don't label their junk email to pay $10,000 to the first recipient who finds them.
"If we deputized the tens of thousands of qualified people out there who are able to hunt offenders, then a large number of offenders would be identified and caught," he wrote.
Lessig believed so strongly in the concept that he staked his job on it. In January 2003, he publicly stated that he would resign his position at Stanford if a spam-bounty system became federal law and did not substantially reduce the level of spam.
Lessig's stunt worked. Lawmakers slipped the bounty provision into CAN-SPAM at the eleventh hour. With the passage of the bill, capturing a spammer's hide had become a potentially lucrative pastime. Yet few anti-spammers ...