Saturday, July 01, 2006


Unsung successes of using science to guide policy

Over on ScienceBlogs, this week's ScienceBlogger question is an interesting one that's difficult to answer:

What are some unsung successes that have occurred as a result of using science to guide policy?

After thinking about it for a while, I'd like to call out what the Federal Trade Commission is doing against spam. While the CAN-SPAM Act itself was passed with insufficient computer-science input, the act called on the FTC for follow-up actions, and the FTC has made a point of consulting the antispam community and paying attention to what we have to say.

Following closely on the heels of the passage of the CAN-SPAM act, the FTC held a Spam Forum, getting recommendations from the academic community, as well as from the research arms of companies such as IBM and Microsoft. A year an a half later, the FTC held an Email Authentication Summit, again getting input from science and industry.

These workshops resulted in FTC reports to Congress, and those reports, which included recommended actions, took into account what they heard from the scientific community. A particular example was the recommendation against a Do Not Email Registry. The formation of such a registry would have been an obvious thing on the surface, and it was the input from researchers and practitioners that showed it to be ill-advised. The report to Congress quite thoroughly covers the issues, the pros and cons, and the recommendations.

Apart from that, the FTC is working closely with the antispam community to track down and prosecute spammers, using the CAN-SPAM act as well as older anti-fraud statutes. The FTC's willingness to consider the recommendations of the scientific community before making policy has had the result of better policies and more effective use of the legislation in its enforcement efforts.

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