It’s not exactly clear why individual users should have any rights to their e-mail addresses. Besides watching some advertisements, users don’t often bear any of the costs associated with making the Internet possible.

Users’ claims on rights–be they rights of privacy or rights of use or protection–are currently pretty weak and based more on expectation and assumed common understanding than any law or fixed structure. This leaves individual users and their e-mail unprotected and uncared for. Not a good place to be. Without individual users, the Internet is meaningless. No matter how much money is invested in the global network, it’s worthless without users.

In a very real sense, the currently undefined rights of individual users have made e-mails an asset held in common. They belong to everyone. They are a part of the global network of infrastructure that everyone has agreed to share. It is hard to make a claim that they are an individual’s private property.

Under current law, an e-mail address is technically the property of the owner of the domain name to which it is directed–the @whatever in one’s e-mail. This could be an employer, an Internet service provider or a free Web-based e-mail service. Philosophically, the claim of private property is tough to make. Far more people use my e-mail address to send things to me than I do for productive, directed and intentional communications.

More here.