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Re: Don't Kill the Messenger--A New Slant on Remailers

To add some background, here are two recent complaints which I received.
They give some of the flavor of what people object to:

> Please do not allow any more anonymous postings from your site to the
> Technical Writer's list.  I don't see any reason we should waste time on
> messages from people we cannot respond to.  One of the rules of the list is
> that MOST discussions are conducted "offline," with the list strictly
> reserved for topics of Technical Writers' interest.  Anonymous postings do
> not allow this to proceed.
> I am angered when I see the message "THE PORTAL SYSTEM DOES NOT CONDONE OR
> APPROVE OF THE CONTENTS OF THIS POSTING."  I think this is irresponsible
> net behavior.  It is liable to cause you service trouble when your site is
> inevitably spammed by angry EMailers and newsgroup readers from all over
> the world.

> Dear Sir,
> I recently received some mail through "[email protected]" 
> from a sick person that probably has (had) problems with the way I behave, 
> and says he (or she?) means that my live has to be terminated. I do NOT 
> approve of these kind of messages, and I also do not approve of your service 
> to make these kinds of threads possible. I demand that you take action to 
> trace and stop these massages, and I will make it my business to have these 
> kinds of services banned from the Internet.
> yours sincerely,
> <...>

These messages show that most people are unfamiliar with the notion of
anonymous remailers.  Their first exposure to the idea is when they get
some objectionable anonymous mail.  So to the extent that the problem is
to be solved by education, we would have a very long row to hoe.

Fortunately, the vast majority of such complaints can be dealt with by
blocking the addresses of the people complaining from receiving future
anonymous mail.  This almost always satisfies people.

The idea of making people ask to receive anonymous mail is interesting.
It would not seem to apply to newsgroups and/or mailing lists, but for
individuals it might work.  The remailer would have to be able to
distinguish between "end users" and other remailers in order to know
whether it was just one step in a chain or the last step.  (We can't
depend on the sender to tell us that since it is abusive or harrassing
mail which will cause the problems, and senders of such mail would
presumably have incentive to get it delivered.)

It would require somewhat greater resources on the part of the remailer
to hold the messages.  I would guess from experience that a large
fraction of the messages would never be picked up, although my
perceptions may be biased since I only see bounced, poorly formatted, or
complained-about mail, and these categories probably have a larger
fraction of messages from clueless and obnoxious people.  But certainly
the messed-up messages I do see are mostly flames, "guess who's", and
similar worthless junk.  I hope there are some pearls going through that
I never see, but that is just a matter of faith.