October 12, 2006
Spamming the News Cycle: Spamhaus non-story goes viral

Google News now shows more than 300 stories about Spamhaus, most about a proposed court order following a district court default judgment.

To me, the most interesting is the meta-story -- why the non-event of a proposed order has the blogs scrambling with claims of constitutional crisis and even the notoriously close-lipped ICANN issuing an announcement "in response to community interest expressed on this topic."

We're seeing a clash of cultures between tech and law. The tech world, afraid the law will jump to erroneous conclusions and cripple an anti-spam mechanism, is in turn making some quick but wrong assumptions about the legal process. Happily, there's enough play in both tech and legal systems to correct for both these errors.

On the legal side, we have a process that has so far aired only one side -- because the other is challenging the court's jurisdiction even to hear the case. Spamhaus, based in the U.K., runs widely-used SPAM blacklists. Marketer e360 Insight sued Spamhaus in an Illinois court to be removed from one of these lists, claiming that its legitimate mail was being blocked (in Illinois) due to Spamhaus's actions. Spamhaus did not defend the suit, asserting that the U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction.

As often happens in such cases of default judgment, the court took at face value the arguments from the party who appeared and asked for a proposed order. The plaintiff then overreached (as is also common), and proposed that ICANN be ordered to deactivate the Spamhaus.org domain name. The court has not yet acted on plaintiff's proposed order.

Even if the court were to adopt this order, it would be open to challenge from many angles: ICANN is not a party to the lawsuit who can be bound by an injunction; ICANN has no contractual power to order a domain de-activated; Spamhaus challenges the court's jurisdiction. In short, as some commentators have recognized, e360's broad request is far from an enforceable order shuttering Spamhaus.org.

On the tech side, while loss of a domain name would be painful, as a domain may be the key point of contact for an Internet-based organization, it would not actually stop a newly-relocated spamhaus-is-now-here.info from putting e360 on the very same lists.

It's clear we have a ways to go in reaching cross-cultural understanding. But I'm also thinking of how we can harness similar tech community outrage against other ICANN actions that have real impact, such as the sluggish process of approving new top-level domains and the shrinking of privacy options for domain name registrants.

Posted by Wendy at 11:07 AM