Freedom of speech is certainly an important human right. However, for
quite a long time even in the United States, there have been legal limitations
placed on that freedom.
For example, you do not have the freedom to yell “fire” or some such
phrase and incite a riot in a crowded theater just for fun. A second example,
and the main point of this article, is that firms and individuals cannot
legally create mass physical mailings and send them via the U.S. mail wherein the
recipient is liable for the postage. This creates an undue financial
hardship on the receiver who never wanted the junk mail in the first
Sound familiar? It should, because it is the No. 1 reason in my mind that
spam should be outlawed and that corporate email systems must be viewed as
neither a public commons nor the personal property of the user.
Email is not free to the organization hosting it. It has never been free.
Ease of use and low cost are two very different concepts that people risk
confusing. For example, in the unbelievable decision by California courts
that a disgruntled former Intel employee did not commit electronic
trespass, the issue of financial costs did not appear to be sufficiently considered.
The defendant sent thousands of unsolicited emails to Intel employees
complaining of Intel’s labor practices. It would have been too costly for
him personally to mail thousands of letters with the postage prepaid and
illegal for him to have sent the letters postage collect, so instead he
Without a doubt, he cost Intel some very real money both in terms of
direct costs associated with the email systems as well as productivity related
costs. Intel should have been able to immediately add his accounts to
spam filters to block email as well as send a cease-and-desist notice.
Computing resources are owned by the organization — not the public and not the
Accounting Cost Elements
Corporations easily can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year
in order to have the necessary infrastructure to support email. Yes, some
> email system licenses are open source or trivially expensive for the
server license, but one must look at the total cost of ownership (TCO) not just
the cost of the email software. Some of the cost elements that must be
included in cost considerations are:
storage, off-site storage, etc.
Internet connectivity, gateways, DNS servers, etc.
These are but a few of the potential elements and a good cost accountant
can whip up a solid cost per average email for an organization.
The accounting costs aren’t the scary aspect of the total cost of unwanted
email. The opportunity costs are the truly bone chilling part of the
equation in the form of opportunity costs. You see, every time an
unwanted email comes in, some portion of the users will actually open and read the
email while some portion will spend a few seconds to scan the email and
First, opportunity costs exist because the user is reading a junk email
when instead, he/she could be working on something of actual value. For
example, if someone reads an email discussing how to get rich quick, then what
opportunities were lost that could have been done instead? If the next
email in the queue related to a mission critical problem, then there was a
delay in the user getting to it. Hence, there is a cost associated with
the person working on a non-value-add activity.
Second, in a very similar fashion, many users are alerted when new email
arrives and they stop what they are doing and go read the new message.
With spammers frequently using intentionally difficult to guess user names and
subject lines, people must often actually open the email to definitively
identify whether the email is of value or not.
Thus, there are inefficiencies introduced as they switch screens, wait
for screens to appear and so on. Then, they must get back to the original
issue and mentally switch gears to continue what they were working on. The
interruption may have caused the person to lose his/her train of thought
and irreparably harm the work product or at least cause delays. Once again,
addressing the spam email is at the expense of other activities.
No matter how you look at it, time is valuable. The issue at hand is that
unwelcome emails create very real burdens to the individuals in an
organization as well as to the organization itself.
The main point of this article is that the whole email concept requires
resources. To organizations, be they government bodies, corporations or
small businesses, email is not free, it has never been free and it will
never be free. There will always be associated costs. By sending out
spam, the cost burden is shifted to the receiving party and when the recipient
works at an organization, there are very real costs placed on the
For the very same reason that mass mailers cannot send out unsolicited
mail postage collect, the spammers should not be allowed free reign to send out
emails. Furthermore, organizations should have the undeniable right to
filter emails that both enter and exit the organization’s systems and
pursue legal actions when someone creates an unreasonable burden. The
organization’s email system exists for the organization and not the
Freedom of speech does not mean that people and organizations have the
legal right to create cost burdens for organizations wherein the organizations
have little to no recourse to stop the onslaught.