Justice Department Spam Crackdown Was Just a Matter of Time

My only question is what took them so long. The long-embattled U.S. Department of Justice, which is populated by some of the best lawyers and people I have ever had a chance to know, has been promoted as more vigilant and activist by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Much has been made of his prosecution of many civil rights, for Americans and others, with the Patriot Act in his pocket especially. So, the august body he heads has kind of needed something that would position it more favorably in the public eye.

If I did PR for the D.O.J., I think I would have hoped for something along the lines of this week's case, which marks the first federal criminal copyright action taken against a P2P network, which many of us have used to access files directly from the hard drives of others' computers. The targeted network was no small ring of music swappers. FBI and other agents executed search warrants at residences and one ISP in Texas, New York, and Wisconsin. I'm still trying to find out which ISP has been stopped in this sweep. The warrants targeted the operators of five of the network's "hubs," rather than the individual users, and criminal charges are likely in the near future, according to the D.O.J.



To give an idea of the scale of this operation, some hubs passed enough data each day to equal 60,000 feature films.

According to the Associated Press, an FBI affidavit filed in support of one search warrant said that agents used covert computers to infiltrate and obtain copyrighted material from some of the users connected to the "Underground Network," including copies of new movies made from legitimate advance screeners' copies. The network, according to the affidavit, has about 7,000 members.

Combined with the Recording Industry Association of America's announcement that it had recently filed 744 new lawsuits against individuals claiming they illegally downloaded songs, it seems that there is some serious lying down of the cyber law going on these days. Even the Direct Marketing Association seems to have gotten religion finally, putting up $500,000 to help the D.O.J.'s ongoing campaign against Spam. According to the D.O.J.'s figures, spam has actually increased since the passage of Can Spam, to as much as 63 percent of all e-mail received by consumers.

I doubt this figure's accuracy very much. And I suspect that what we have here is something of a pissing match between rivals in the Executive Branch and Legislative Branch, with the D.O.J. essentially saying that Can Spam doesn't work, so get out of the way, Congress, and let the Unites States get it right. Such things happen more than you might guess in old D.C.

The DMA issued a statement asserting that the spam arrests stem from a yearlong investigation intended to "engender greater trust and comfort in legitimate e-mail communications."

Details of "Operation Slam Spam" were expected to be announced Thursday, and MediaPost covered their initial announcement of the operation earlier this week. Strangely, no further details have been forthcoming.

I'm hoping that this crackdown helps reduce the number of "phishing" cases, which seem to be ever increasing. One thing's for sure, as many of us head to the beach and mountains for our vacations, and the D.O.J. - like all government bodies in D.C. - essentially goes into slow motion for a few weeks, there are a few people there who are really working hard to get this right. I'm glad to see it. As aforementioned, it was just a matter of time.

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