California’s License to Read Belongs in the Junk Folder

Dylan Moore
Dylan Moore  ·  February 1, 2024

Like most Americans, Jay Fink hates spam email. That’s why, about a decade ago, Jay started a business to help his fellow Californians stand up to malicious and deceptive spammers. Jay has something else in common with Liberty & Law readers, too: He’ll stand up to overbearing bureaucracy. That’s why, last November, he teamed up with IJ to challenge the unconstitutional California law that shut his business down. 

Jay offers his clients a niche litigation support service. Californians who receive too much spam hire him to look through their junk folders and flag the emails that could violate the state’s anti-spam law. Armed with the reports Jay creates, his clients can sue their spammers in state court. Thanks to Jay’s work—reading emails and creating reports—hundreds of people in the Golden State have gotten some recompense for gummed-up inboxes.

Even though Jay’s business makes the world a less annoying place, California has branded him a criminal. That’s because, according to the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, Jay is acting as an unlicensed private investigator. This is, of course, absurd—Jay doesn’t conduct armed stakeouts in the dead of night to catch crooks. He reads emails to catch spam. California nevertheless told Jay that if he wants to “review [a] client’s email,” he needs a PI license. To qualify for one, Jay would have to spend 6,000 hours of his life working in a field like insurance adjustment, law enforcement, or arson investigation. 

Jay knows it doesn’t take three years of experience in a completely unrelated line of work to read his clients’ emails. So he’s fighting back—and the Constitution supports him. The First Amendment squarely protects all Americans’ right to share their thoughts about the things they read, including thoughts they get paid for.

IJ has led the fight against outrageous occupational licensing schemes like California’s for more than 25 years. We’re not done yet. As long as unconstitutional laws prohibit ordinary people from exercising their right to speak for a living, IJ will be there to challenge them.

Dylan Moore is an IJ attorney.

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