Saturday, March 01, 2008

Jeremy Jaynes loses appeal on spamming case

Jeremy Jaynes, the spammer who was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison in 2003 for violating Virginia's anti-spam law, has lost his appeal before the Virginia Supreme Court in a 4-3 ruling. Several of the dissents claimed that Virginia's anti-spam law, which criminalizes unsolicited bulk email with falsified headers, even if it is political or religious in content rather than commercial, is a violation of the First Amendment. The quotations from Justice Elizabeth Lacy and Jaynes' attorney Thomas M. Wolf both state that the law has diminished everyone's freedom by criminalizing "bulk anonymous email, even for the purpose of petitioning the government or promoting religion."

Both Lacy and Wolf misrepresent the law, which makes it a crime to "Falsify or forge electronic mail transmission information or other routing information in any manner in connection with the transmission of unsolicited bulk electronic mail through or into the computer network of an electronic mail service provider or its subscribers."

There is a difference between forging headers and sending anonymous email--the latter does not require the former, and the latter is not prohibited by the law. Jaynes wasn't just trying to be anonymous--he was engaged in fraud, and falsifying message headers and from addresses to try to avoid the consequences of his criminality. He wasn't using anonymous remailers to express a political or religious message, and if he had been, he wouldn't have been able to be charged under this law.

UPDATE (September 12, 2008): The Virginia Supreme Court has reversed itself and struck down Virginia's anti-spam law as unconstitutional, on the grounds that prohibiting false routing information on emails infringes upon the right to anonymous political or religious speech. This is a very bad decision for the reasons I gave above. There are ways to engage in anonymous speech without doing what Jaynes did, falsifying message headers and domain names. The court's argument that one must falsify headers, IP addresses, and domain names in order to be anonymous is factually incorrect. Anonymity doesn't require header falsification, it only requires *omission* of identifying information.

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