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Re: Proposed EU Directive on Electronic Commerce

  • To: Ragnar Lonn < >
  • From: Piet Beertema < >
  • Date: Fri, 15 Jan 1999 17:07:57 +0100

    	Wrong. The post office is the carrier, not the user. And the post
	office doesn't tell you what to put (or what not to put) into your
	message. Anyone trying to tell/force you to put specific strings
	into your message is in fact *telling you what to say*; and that's
	an interference with your freedom of speech.
    Ok, I understand what you mean. This is uncharted territory
    I think, but mail messages are in fact altered in transit.
Part of a mail message can - and usually will - be altered
in transit. Much like the postal service stamping a letter.
There are significant differences though between snail mail
and e-mail that extend beyond the envelope: most notably the
sender and recipient addresses in the header can - and often
will - be rewritten, i.e. changed. That can be perfectly legal
though because of the purpose served by it, e.g. to make the
address replyable. That cannot be said for the Subject line
though, which is fully under user control.

    The question then is, is the 'Subject:' header in a fundamental
    way different from the other mail headers, meaning it can't be
    altered without affecting the sender's right to free speech?
There is no standard *pertaining to e-mail* that addresses
this issue. There is however a standard (RFC1036, which I
quoted in a previous reply, pertaining to netnews) which
is quite clear about the function of the Subject line:
  The "Subject" line (formerly "Title") tells what the message
  is about.  It should be suggestive enough of the contents of
  the message to enable a reader to make a decision whether to
  read the message based on the subject alone.
So the Subject line is meant for a "reader", which clearly
denotes a *human* reader here. And since the Subject line
has to be "suggestive enough" about the *contents* of the
message, I read this as the Subject line being part of the
actual contents of the message, as composed by the sender.

    I guess it could be considered an integral part of the message and
    because of that, protected

    but on the other hand, what if the mail clients scanned for and
    removed any "[UCE]" in the Subject: headers before presenting the
    mail to the user? It's really a matter of what is being presented
    to the user, isn't it, rather than what is actually there?
If "[UCE]" could be added *automatically* to an *existing*
Subject line, and just as automatically removed from it,
then I see no problem, because the whole event would be
invisible to the sender and recipient anyway. But the key
issue was that the spammer, i.e. the *sender* him/herself
would have to add "[UCE]" to the Subject line. And then
it's a completely different story.


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