Internet Providers Team up to Sue Alleged Spammers

Four Internet providers have filed a series of lawsuits accusing hundreds of people of clogging e-mail boxes with millions of unwanted e-mail solicitations.

The four companies — Microsoft Corp., Time Warner Inc.'s America Online Inc., EarthLink Inc. and Yahoo Inc. — filed six lawsuits in the first test of the federal Can Spam legislation that went into effect Jan. 1, the New York Times reported. The lawsuits, announced Wednesday, were filed in federal courts in California, Georgia, Virginia and Washington state.

The companies, who collectively serve tens of millions of subscribers, shared information and other resources to identify what they say are some of the nation’s most prolific spammers. The Times reported that Brightmail, an e-mail filter company, estimated that 62 percent of e-mail sent in February was spam.

"We are trying to find the biggest, the baddest and the most notorious," said Randall Boe, the General Counsel of America Online. "When we work together it helps us find the most high impact defendants."

Among the named defendants were Davis Wolfgang Hawke of Medfield, Mass., whom AOL lawyers said also is known as Dave Bridger, and Braden Bournival of Manchester, N.H., according to the Associated Press. They and others were accused of sending millions of e-mails offering weight loss products, "personal lie detectors" and more. Most of the defendants are unidentified, having successfully hidden their tracks, and they are accused of sending spam to sell prescription drugs, weight loss plans and herbs. Now that lawsuits have been filed, subpoenas can be used to get records from banks, Internet providers and others that can help identify the spammers.

The legislation requires unsolicited e-mails to include a way for recipients to indicate they don’t want future mass mailings. The Can Spam legislation also bars senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail from hiding their identity through a false return address or misleading subject line. Senders are also prohibited from gathering addresses off websites.

One spam expert is doubtful the new legislation will deter spammers, since Internet Service Providers have been able to sue under state statutes and federal computer crime law for eight years.

"The suits haven't done anything to deter spammers," attorney David Kramer of Palo Alto told the Times. "When you cut off one head of the hydra two more heads pop up."

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