In an effort to help protect children from spam containing adult oriented content (including alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and gambling), the State of Michigan Department of Information Technology has launched the Protect MI Child, an e-mail equivalent to the national Do Not Call List. As per the site, “It allows Michigan’s parents and schools to register e-mail addresses that children may access … Once an e-mail address has been registered, senders of e-mail messages that advertise or link to prohibited products or services are required to remove the address from their mailing lists within 30 days.” And e-mail is just the start, soon parents will be able to register instant messenger accounts and cell phone numbers and more.
It’s good to see the State of Michigan looking out for the welfare of our kids. Right? Well, not necessarily.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that spammers will pay attention to “do not spam” lists. The federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 has been in effect since January 1st, 2004, and I’ve not seen a significant reduction in SPAM volume in the past eighteen months, nor have I seen more spam messages starting to use legitimate headers and non deceptive subject lines (two of CAN-SPAMs main provisions). But more significantly, as more and more SPAM originates outside of the U.S., enforcing CAN-SPAM (and Protect MI Child) will be close to impossible. The truth is that all these laws convey is a false sense of security for some parents, and will do nothing to stop spam.
So, Protect MI Child is not going to help much, that’s a given. But can it hurt?
Actually, it can. Public registration for Protect MI Child begun on July 1st, 2005, and thus far close to 3,000 e-mail addresses have been registered. That number is expected to grow dramatically closer to the new school year. At some point there will likely be hundreds of thousands of legitimate e-mail addresses (and eventually IM addresses and cell phone numbers), each stored with the child’s birth month and year, parents’ name and address and e-mail, and more. Protect MI Child has put a lot of thought into the technology behind encryption and list scrubbing, and that’s great. But no data is ever as impenetrable as we’d like to believe it is. And with all of this information stored in one place, can you think of a better target for identity thieves? How long will it take until this database is hacked or stolen, and can we actually trust the government to ensure that this cannot and will not happen?
Protect MI Child, like CAN-SPAM, is “feel good” legislation, and will do nothing to actually help protect our children. But, unlike CAN-SPAM, Protect MI Child could actually expose children to more than just spam.