The Right Not to Be Annoyed

By Doug Patton

Doug PattonLast summer, I wrote a column called “The Right Not to Be Annoyed,” wherein I criticized the creation of the national “do not call” list. I characterized it as one more example of the intrusion of government into the business of business.

For that condemnation of what I considered an unnecessary expansion of the nanny-state, I was the recipient of some of the most vitriolic cyber-abuse I have ever received on any topic. Apparently, the anger expressed in those e-mails was representative of the millions who, upon hearing of “The List,” could not wait to call in or log on to place their names and phone numbers on yet another federal database. These people seemed to think that giving the federal government the power to prohibit telemarketers from contacting them was the greatest thing since the invention of the telephone itself.

With the publication of this week’s column, I am bracing myself for an even greater avalanche of hostile e-mail, so here goes…

I am opposed to the new federal legislation banning “spam” on the Internet. There, I said it. Let the rebuke begin.

For the record, I am as tired of unsolicited e-mail as anyone else is. Between the pitches for weight-loss miracles, credit cards, cyber-dating services and the endless opportunities to have millions of dollars deposited into my bank account by the representative of some deposed African ruler, I get at least a hundred junk e-mails a day.

So how in the world do I deal with all that spam without the help of the federal government? Like most people, I simply delete it and go on with my life. (You are allowed to do that, you know.)

Actually, I find spam no more annoying than the ads I have to strip out and discard before I can navigate my way through the TV Guide or the Sunday newspaper. Do we need a law to ban those, too? What about junk mail? Shouldn’t we prohibit the Postal Service from cluttering up our mailboxes? After all, it is a daily, unsolicited intrusion into our homes and offices, isn’t it?

The vote in Congress to restrict commercial spam was a unanimous one. Since Congress almost never votes unanimously on anything, public support for this legislation must have been overwhelming. But is it necessary? Do we really want a new federal bureaucracy designed specifically to restrict our ability to communicate with others over the Internet about a perfectly legal product or service?

The feds have been salivating for years over this giant, unruly frontier of knowledge, commerce and creativity, looking for any opportunity to regulate and, eventually, tax it. It must be a source of great amusement to those who desire control of the Internet to watch the masses clamor for such regulation.

I must confess that I have tried so-called “spam filters,” but the time and effort it took to look through the “filtered” material and salvage the messages the filter was not supposed to block made the entire process more trouble than it was worth. Any federal effort to curb spam is likely to be even more haphazard. When was the last time government involvement simplified anything?

By the way, those of you who have been clamoring for your government to do something about spam will be interested to know that, just as they did with the “do not call” list, our elected officials have exempted themselves from this legislation. So, when the commercial solicitations for Viagra are replaced by political solicitations for the reelection of your member of congress, at least there will be less clutter in your inbox.

Doug Patton is a freelance columnist who has served as a speechwriter and policy advisor for federal, state and local candidates, elected officials and public policy organizations. His weekly columns are published in newspapers across the country, and on selected Internet web sites, including, where he serves as the Nebraska Editor. He also writes for Talon News Service ( Readers can e-mail him at