FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Does the Obama White House’s Self-Proclaimed ‘Viral Email’ Violate Federal Law?
The Obama administration opts you in, and you have no way to opt out. Metaphor for Obamacare, anyone?
UPDATE: I’m receiving emails from folks who say an unsubscribe link was at the bottom of the Axelrod email they received. I’m also receiving more emails from people, including on Capitol Hill, who are saying they received Axelrod’s “viral” talking points memo despite never having signed up for White House emails in any way.
If there’s a part of this story that’s more troubling to me, it’s not the unsubscribe bit; CAN-SPAM likely doesn’t apply to government anyway, and I can always move Mr. Axelrod’s emails to my spam bucket on my own. Rather, the most troubling part here is the fact that the White House is apparently targeting people who have never offered their permission, or their contact information, to the White House in an increasingly desperate attempt to get somebody to listen to them.
Yesterday, the Obama White House launched a self-described “viral e-mail” that, according to ABC News, strategists and spokespersons hoped would “combat the viral e-mails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies and distortions.”
The email, which is from Obama strategist David Axelrod and which has a subject line of “Something Worth Forwarding, is a lengthy (and wholly unremarkable)rehash of Obama administration/Organizing for America/Democrat National Committee talking points on the proposed health care overhaul.
The main content of this email is not really noteworthy in the least. What is noteworthy is the fact that Axelrod’s email appears to lack any way to opt out of future messages from firstname.lastname@example.org — a fact that, if Axelrod’s email is to be considered anything other than official government communication, may put it in violation of the federal CAN-SPAM Act.
The CAN-SPAM (“Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing”) Act, passed in 2003, requires emailers to “give recipients an opt-out method,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Axelrod’s email did not do that.
Granted, the CAN-SPAM Act was written to protect people against commercial email spamming, not against a White House that sent an email without an opt-out feature to a list of people who never requested to be contacted by the Obama White House, and who never provided the administration with their email addresses.
Yesterday, Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett pressed Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs on apparent inclusion of people on the recipient list who never authorized the White House to email them. Gibbs’s response was to direct Garrett to provide the administration with the names and email addresses of anybody who had complained about receiving Axelrod’s email.
When looked at in the context of the call earlier this month for citizens to turn in their fellow Americans who criticized Obamacare in “casual conversation” to the White House, Gibbs’s request for personal information on those who complained about receiving an unsolicited email from the Obama administration appears to be yet more evidence of a pattern by the White House of responding to criticism by demanding information on, and going after, those individuals who dare to make their criticisms and objections known.
This is the second email in a week to be sent by the Obama White House in an effort to bolster support for its flagging health care overhaul proposal (relatedly, the Obama campaign has sent four in the last 8 days, and the Democratic National Committee two, marking an incredibly desperate attempt by government health care advocates to reverse the growing tide of opposition to their proposals).
The important points on this one, though, are that people were apparently added to the recipient list for this email without ever having requested to be contacted by the Obama White House, and without ever having provided the administration with their email addresses; and that recipients, whether they chose to receive emails from the White House or not, are now on an email list that they have no way of removing themselves from.
So, you can be opted in by the federal government — and they leave you with no way to opt out.
Wow. If this isn’t a metaphor for the entire Obamacare fiasco, I don’t know what is.