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Concerned about Americans’ apparent apathy and even disillusionment about politics, Daniel Sperry of New Haven, Mich., thought he would do his part to encourage participation by e-mailing a few friends, asking them to join his President of the United States Prayer Club — known as POTUS PC.

This is how it works: On the first Thursday of every month, club members pray for the president from 8 to 8:30 p.m. To update members “on the current crises facing this administration” and to help them “pray more specifically,” Sperry sends out a monthly e-newsletter.

After just a few weeks, Sperry was astonished to learn that the free e-mail account he had set up for his club through Microsoft’s Hotmail was canceled. After his initial inquiry on Feb. 12, Sperry was told he had violated Hotmail’s “Terms of Use” agreement. Sperry attempted to contact the e-mail provider by phone to no avail, and on April 20, he used an alternate e-mail service to ask how he had violated the contract.

On May 4, he was simply told via e-mail that he had violated the contract, but no explanation was given as to how the contract was violated. The same day, Sperry asked his question again and was immediately given a curious response.

“For security and privacy reasons, we cannot give you further information regarding the status of this account,” the Hotmail representative wrote.

Asking yet again for an explanation, Sperry received the same reply. Asked by WorldNetDaily for the reason the account was canceled, Hotmail said it received several complaints from POTUS PC e-mail recipients.

“The account was closed for spam,” wrote a spokesperson. “What should be pointed out here is, spam is not just advertisements sent by anonymous marketing companies; it can also include any unsolicited e-mail, be it commercial or bulk. We received multiple complaints from several recipients, and upon further investigation, discovered the mail was considered spam. Based on our Terms of Use, we closed the account.”

Hotmail prides itself in its spam-fighting diligence and has been praised by anti-spam organizations. The e-mail provider states that it blocks spam at the client and server level, and its “Terms of Use” agreement specifically prohibits users from spamming.

“Microsoft respects user privacy and does not tolerate delivery of unwanted e-mail to Hotmail users’ inboxes. The service blocks unsolicited e-mail from known spammers and does not sell or share information about its user base,” the company states.

Additionally, Hotmail apologized for not adequately explaining to Sperry its reason for canceling his account, saying the lack of communication was a glitch in its customer-service practices. The company explained that Sperry had sent e-mails to people he did not know and who subsequently filed complaints with Microsoft.

But Sperry insists he only e-mailed people he knew and that his correspondence should not have been classified as spam.

“I can assure you that at no time did I send out unsolicited or bulk e-mail or disseminate the information about what I was doing in any inappropriate way,” he told WND. “I am not running a game here where I am looking to increase my numbers for the sake of advertising or gain. I had hoped that a few like-minded people would want to join in a monthly prayer meeting. I never expected it grow the way it has, and had I known what it would turn into, I may not have begun it in the first place — certainly not after what Hotmail has put me through.”

After setting up his free e-mail account, Sperry said he sent an initial invitation e-mail “to about 10 or so friends.” Six joined the club right away, and membership numbers grew as the weeks went on. Now there are over 100 members of POTUS PC, and the club has its own website, which Sperry says attracts 50 unique visitors per day.

“I provided information about POTUS PC only to people that I knew, people who specifically requested the info, and on a newsgroup thread in which I was a part of the discussion and to which the information was appropriate,” he continued.

Sperry speculated that he may have been the victim of religious discrimination. A Microsoft employee could have seen what he was writing, disagreed with the content and classified him as a spammer so he would be shut down, he said. But Hotmail insisted its employees are unable to view correspondence. The company would have to go through legal channels and obtain a type of warrant to access an individual’s e-mails.

With the prolific use of e-mail, Congress and several states have pursued anti-spam laws. While there are currently no such laws at the federal level or in Sperry’s state of Michigan, 18 states have some form of prohibition against unsolicited e-mail. California’s Business and Professions Code Section 17538.45 was amended in 1998 to define “unsolicited electronic mail advertisement” as any electronic mail advertisement that meets both of the following requirements: “It is addressed to a recipient with whom the initiator does not have an existing business or personal relationship” and “It is not sent at the request of or with the express consent of the recipient.”

Spam.abuse.net, a group that advocates laws prohibiting unsolicited e-mail, defines spam as including more than just e-mail. Spam can also be “a single message sent to 20 or more Usenet newsgroups,” the group states.

But why all the fuss over unsolicited e-mail? Money. The most popular complaint against spam is made by “victims” who ultimately pay the price for it — literally. According to Spam.abuse.net, the argument that Internet users are not financially affected by spam because they pay a flat rate for Internet access falls short. Many online services and ISPs still have metered rates. And in some major U.S. cities, all phone calls — even local ones to an ISP’s dial-in modem — are metered. On top of that, spammers are exporting the problem to Europe, Australia, Asia, South America and Africa.

“Many countries around the world have no flat-rate services whatsoever, and in Europe, for example, phone rates are often much higher than in the U.S,” argues Spam.abuse.net. “No matter how you stretch to justify it, the recipients of spam are getting the shaft from spammers.”

The advocacy group analogized the cost of spam to the cellular industry, saying the phenomenon is comparable to auto-dialing junk phone calls to cellular users.

“You can imagine how favorably that might be received,” the group writes on its website.

While a relatively small operation like POTUS PC may not make a big dent in online customers’ wallets, many companies that provide e-mail service have drawn a bold anti-spam line in their user contracts to deter rampant, unsolicited e-mail — including Microsoft.

But Sperry maintains he is not guilty and resents being dropped without first being able to communicate with Hotmail.

“Hotmail could claim to have received a thousand complaints against me, and I would have no way to disprove it,” he said. “The only thing I can say is that I, at all times, abided by their Terms of Use. Hotmail can say anything they wish about my account and I would have no way to prove them wrong.”

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