Thursday, December 23, 2004

Judge Halts Guilty Plea in Anti-Spam Law Case

Judge questions anti-spam law:
Judge halts guilty plea by ex-AOL employee who sold e-mail addresses, questions new anti-spam law.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has refused to accept a guilty plea from a former America Online employee accused of selling the Internet provider's customer list to a "spammer," saying he was unsure a crime had been committed.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein stopped a Tuesday hearing at which Jason Smathers was to plead guilty to conspiracy and interstate trafficking of stolen property, saying he had a "technical question" about the alleged crime.

At issue, the judge said, is whether the actions rose to the level required by a new anti-spam law, which states that spam must be not only annoying but deceptive.
The case by federal prosecutors charges that Smathers, of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, stole a list of 92 million customer screen names from AOL, a unit of Time Warner Inc. (Research), and sold it to an Internet marketer. CNN/Money also is a unit of Time Warner.

The marketer then allegedly used the list to promote his online gambling operation and sold the names to other spammers, according to prosecutors.

Smathers, 24, faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiracy and interstate trafficking of stolen property, but was expected to receive a sentence closer to 18 to 24 months.

After the hearing was unexpectedly cut short, an attorney for Smathers said "everything has been thrown open now" by the judge's refusal to accept his client's plea.

"This is a new statute," the attorney, Jay Goldberg, said. "He is questioning whether the conduct here met the standard of deception."
I iwsh had time right now to research this case a bit more. I'd like to know what exactly the statute says, especially with regards to deception. If the anti-spam law only tackles deceptive spam, in my opinion that ignores the vast majority of spam, which is not deceptive in its subject line. If I did explore and learn a bit more, I could comment on the Judge's position because, based on this unsupported article, it seems a bit fishy.