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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

California requires 6,000 hours of training to identify junk email – Orange County Register

How many hours of training does it take to determine whether an email belongs in your junk folder? For most people, the answer is probably “zero.” But the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services says you need 6,000 hours of experience before you can identify spam for a living. 

Jay Fink, a Bay Area entrepreneur, runs an innovative business that helps people regain control of their inboxes. In California, where you can challenge companies that send you deceptive junk emails, Fink identifies and indexes his clients’ spam messages to help them prepare for litigation. But regulators in the Golden State have told Fink that his business—reading and cataloguing emails—is illegal. And they’ve ordered  him to close his doors unless he endures three years of training in a field completely unrelated to his line of work. 

Fink began his crusade against spam in the late-2000s, when he was receiving upward of 500 spam emails per day. After Fink learned about California’s anti-spam law, he sued his spammers—and won. After bringing his own spammers to justice, Jay found a new calling in life: helping other people do the same. Over the past decade, Jay has helped hundreds of Californians fight back against spammers, including high-interest payday loan companies, redundant credit monitoring firms, and seedy supplement suppliers.  

But Fink’s livelihood came crashing down earlier this year when he received yet another unwanted email—this time from the California government. According to state regulators, Fink’s business is illegal because the lists he compiles for his clients are potentially related to an eventual lawsuit. To do this work, California claims, Fink needs to be a licensed private  investigator

Fink cannot just go get a license. He would need to spend three years of his life gaining  experience in a field like law enforcement, insurance adjustment, or investigative journalism—all to continue running a business he has successfully operated for more than a decade. 

Fink neither wants nor needs the skills of a traditional private investigator to read and  catalogue his clients’ emails. Forcing him to obtain one is pointless, irrational, and—most troubling of all—unconstitutional. That’s why Fink teamed up with the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, to challenge California’s private investigator licensing law. 

Applied to Fink, the licensing law raises two constitutional red flags. First, the things Fink does for a living—reading, repackaging, and conveying information—are squarely protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has explained that a person’s “right to speak is implicated when information he or she possesses is subjected to restraints on the way in which the information might be used or disseminated.” 

The government cannot restrict anyone’s First Amendment rights without a compelling reason. But California has done just that. It told Fink he cannot share his knowledge about spam because his clients might use that knowledge in a lawsuit, barricading his right to share information behind 6,000 hours of irrelevant training. 

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