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Every workday morning, I turn on the lights in my office, boot up my computer, and hit the delete key 50 or 60 times. That’s about how much spam, or junk e-mail, I receive every day. It’s annoying, to say the least. But that’s not all: It’s a drag on the economy, jamming the nation’s in-boxes. It’s not doing much for our productivity, either. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not be forced to read pitches for great new home businesses, “generic” Viagra, and, well, you know. On the other hand, I am almost totally unbothered by e-mail spam at my personal e-mail address. I see only messages I wish to see, from close friends, relatives, and retailers from whom I buy on a regular basis (think Amazon and Netflix). Every now and then, I glance at the contents of my junk e-mail folder and, after a quick scan, hit the delete key. Other than making spam a federal crime � proposals to do just that surface periodically � there are ways we, as both corporate and personal e-mail users, can fight back. There’s both preventive and after-the-fact therapy. But be warned: The remedies require some thought, preparation, and balancing your free and unfettered use of the Internet against your privacy and, perhaps, sanity. In The Office Your first line of defense is your company’s IT department. Chances are, if spam is an annoyance to you, it’s become a crisis for IT. Spam jams e-mail servers and forces the department to allocate scarce resources to screening e-mails. But what is the lawyer’s role? As an in-house lawyer, it’s your job to ensure that filters protect the company’s need to keep its servers clear of junk yet allow your colleagues to do their job. Those in the legal department and other key areas have a great need for privacy and confidentiality. Vendors are finally scrambling to sell tech departments screening systems. The systems work in a number of ways, from analyzing the messages’ origins, to literally processing them through their servers first and eliminating those that meet certain criteria. Check with your team to make sure important messages aren’t being thrown out with the garbage, and that confidentiality is maintained, where appropriate. Corporate Counsel‘s parent company, American Lawyer Media, has started to mark suspect e-mails with a code in the subject line. Individual users can then set up a simple filter to move suspect e-mails to a separate Microsoft Outlook folder (which I delete later on). So far, so good. Mail rules, or filters, in general can be a two-edged sword. They do work, if you’re careful and don’t try to be, as courts might say, overinclusive. So start simply � for example, specifying that messages marked with a certain code in the subject line be moved to a certain folder upon receipt. Once you’ve gotten some experience observing how your rule works, you can devise more complex ones. Here’s how to do it in systems using the nearly ubiquitous Microsoft Exchange server. In Outlook (the Microsoft corporate software that works with Exchange servers) and Outlook Express, you can find rules under the “Tools” menu. If you know, for example, that You have to be careful, though. Spammers are nothing if not ingenious. They vary the sending address, and often, it’s a phony. So you’ll likely have trouble coming up with an ironclad rule. Taking It Personally On your home computer, you can take advantage of the automated junk mail filters built into the software most of us use. The most popular e-mail programs for small office and home users, Eudora and Outlook Express/Entourage (the beefed-up OE for MS Office for Mac users), have junk mail filters that are pretty good. If you simply apply the filter, OE will mark the mail as junk, by applying a different color. You can then apply a rule consigning junk mail to the trash. But enough about you. My personal e-mail experience transcends mere rules, because I’ve been using the latest version of Apple’s Mail program on my home e-mail account. Mail comes with the latest iteration of Mac OS X, dubbed Jaguar, and it has a junk mail filter that’s amazingly intelligent � Apple uses the marketing-speak term “adaptive latent semantic analysis.” Whatever. I switched from Entourage out of curiosity, and have stuck with it since then. The first week, you train Mail as it marks what it thinks are junk messages brown. If you see a mistake, you simply mark it “not junk” via a tool bar button. After a week or so, if the training’s gone well (most users swear by it), you can switch to automatic. Practice Safe Surfing But filtering only goes so far. Prevention is just as important, and that’s where you and your colleagues can make a real difference. Basically, think long and hard about your personal Internet exposure. There are a number of ways we advertise ourselves on the Web, and much of it by now has become habit. Spammers take advantage of our serendipitous voyages around the Web by sending search robots out to gather e-mail addresses. Once you’re on a list, the spams will keep jamming your in-box. The most obvious way we put ourselves out there is by participating in online forums. They may help you find a legal form or help you with a software glitch, but you end up broadcasting your name. If the forum allows it, hide or don’t provide your e-mail address. If you must supply an address, either use your Internet service provider’s settings to come up with a public e-mail address, or alter yours. So, instead of Another way sellers obtain your address is via the ubiquitous online forms we’ve gotten used to filling out. Before you buy anything online, check out the retailer’s privacy statement. If they don’t have one, be wary. And, if it’s possible, steer clear of sellers that don’t promise that they won’t sell your address to others. The Last Resort: Complain No one says you have to take all of this lying down, or sitting there trying to fend it off. You can also fight back. (Caveat: Don’t respond to any spam. That just confirms your address to the bad guys.) Complain, loudly. Write to your ISP. Insist that it monitor traffic and delete offensive junk. Among the big ones, Earthlink in particular has staked out a fairly tough position on both spam and Internet privacy. ISPs in general are aware of the problem and, with varying success, try to block it at the source. MSN, for example, tries to apply filters to mass mailers, while Earthlink’s mail has a “Spaminator” feature. Naturally, there are commercial services that would love to help us fight spam, like Spam Cop (mail.spamcop.net) and RS (remove-spam.com). They act as paid clearinghouses, and will filter mail coming your way, and/or report abuses. SpamCop charges $30 a year for its services; RS, $20 a month for unlimited spam reporting. But when it comes down to it, the best defense is just playing smart. Use your common sense, don’t disseminate your information publicly if you can avoid it, be discriminating about using filters, and complain when you come across egregious abusers. Anthony Paonita is executive editor of Corporate Counsel.

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