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[By e-mail authenticationsummit@ftc.gov]

September 28, 2004

Email Authentication Summit-Comments
Federal Trade Commission
Room 159—H (Annex V)
600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20580

To The Commission:

EPIC applauds the Federal Trade Commission for its continuing efforts to address spam, unsolicited commercial e-mail.  In our comments below on the E-mail Authentication Summit,[1] we urge the Commission to clearly define the differences between identification and authentication; to recognize that anonymous e-mail is not necessarily spam and may have important political value, and that consumers would benefit from attempts to identify companies that spam or that employ spammers. 

The Commission's current orientation on e-mail authentication could endanger Internet privacy.  The Commission risks jeopardizing one of the most consumer-friendly aspects of the Internet—the ability to communicate anonymously—in order to address a problem that is not caused by a lack of identification.  Pursued to its logical conclusion, the Commission risks weakening anonymity while making it easier for so called "legitimate" marketers to enter the spam field.  This is an approach that could have been copied out of a Direct Marketing Association playbook.  It is the worst case scenario for consumers, the putative constituency of the Commission, who don't want spam, whether it hails from the disreputable or the reputable.

The Notice Confuses Identification and Authentication

As Professor Roger Clarke explains, identification is "the association of data with a particular human being."[2]  Authentication, on the other hand, is:

…the process whereby a degree of confidence is established about the truth of an assertion…[3]

In this context, the degree of confidence being established concerns eligibility to access a service, specifically, sending e-mail.  This does not necessarily involve identification of a person.  As Professor Clarke explains: 

[One] approach is the authentication of attributes, credentials or eligibility. In this case, it is not the person's identity that is in focus, but rather the capacity of that person to perform some function, such as being granted a discount applicable only to tradesmen or club-members, or a concessional fee only available to senior citizens or school-children, or entry to premises that are restricted to adults only.[4]

While the Commission has titled this meeting as an "Email Authentication Summit," the notice frequently discusses identification and may not clearly discern the differences between identification and authentication.  For instance:

To remove this cloak of anonymity, ISPs and others involved with the email system have proposed domain-level authentication systems—systems that would enable a receiving mail server to verify that an email message actually came from the sender’s purported domain.[5]

This part of the text describes a removal of a cloak of anonymity, suggesting that a sender actually has to provide identity.  However, identification is not necessarily required in authentication.  Rather, a form of distributed authentication could be employed, one where ISPs can determine that one has a right to access the server to send e-mail, and relays that fact to others.  In fact, there are even situations where an ISP could have an anonymous subscriber who has the authority to send e-mail.

The Notice Improperly Attributes Spam to a Lack of Identification

The notice reads in part as follows:

By failing to require accurate sender identification, SMTP allows spammers to send email without accountability, often disguised as personal email.[6]

Anonymously sent e-mail is not necessarily spam.  The definition of spam is unsolicited commercial e-mail.  Not anonymously sent e-mail.  Anonymously sent mail can be high-value political expression that is simply more important than even well-identified spam from a mainstream company. 

Question 22 raises the most important aspect of e-mail authentication: will standards endorsed by industry or the Commission impact on the ability of individuals to engage in anonymous political speech?

Anonymity is a core First Amendment value that enables the expression of political ideas, participation in the political process, membership in political associations, and the practice of religious belief without fear of government intimidation or public retaliation. The Supreme Court has recognized the significant role that anonymity plays in the publication of unpopular ideas.

Anonymity is a necessary component in people's ability to form ideas outside the watchful eye of their neighbors, as well as the government. Anonymity is central to the flourishing of a pluralistic society, because it permits engagement in ideas and beliefs outside of the mainstream without fear of retribution. As such, any authentication scheme considered by the Commission should not force senders of high-value speech to identify themselves. 

The Commission Should Focus its Efforts on Identifying Spam Businesses and the Companies that Employ Them

Rather than erode anonymity of individual Internet users, the Commission should focus on identifying spam businesses and the companies that employ them.  The major purpose of spam is to sell products, and many spams have links to products marketed by companies in the United States.  The Commission should focus on identifying these purveyors of spam to facilitate ISP, attorney general, and Commission enforcement.

Respectfully Submitted,

Chris Jay Hoofnagle
Associate Director

[1] Email Authentication Summit, 69 Fed. Reg. 55632 (Sept. 15, 2004).

[2] Roger Clarke, Human Identification in Information Systems: Management Challenges and Public Policy Issues, Information Technology & People 7,4 (December 1994), available at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/HumanID.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Roger Clarke, Introduction to Dataveillance and Information Privacy, and Definitions of Terms, Sept. 16, 1999, available at http://www.anu.edu.au/people/Roger.Clarke/DV/Intro.html.

[5] 69. Fed. Reg. at 55634.

[6] 69. Fed. Reg. at 55633.

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