Feds preparing to jail more spammers?

A U.S. Justice Department attorney says more criminal prosecutions of spammers are on the way, but will that warning deter would-be junk mailers?

WASHINGTON--Spammers, beware: more criminal spam prosecutions--complete with stiff prison sentences and mandatory forfeiture of relevant valuables--are on the way in the coming months, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney said Thursday.

"I think the healthy dose of jail time plus lose-your-money is working," Mona Sedky Spivack, a trial attorney in the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual property unit, said at the second day of a Federal Trade Commission spam summit here. "I hope that provides a deterrent effect to other would-be criminal spammers out there."

Justice Department and FBI representatives contacted by CNET News.com weren't able to provide any numbers on how many spam-related cases have already been prosecuted in recent years. The FTC's experience may offer one clue: a spokeswoman said her agency brought 26 civil actions against spammers since the 2003 passage of a controversial antispam law known as Can-Spam, and four of them also involved a criminal component.

It wasn't until January of this year that the department recorded its first criminal jury conviction under Can-Spam. That perpetrator of that phony e-mail scheme, a 45-year-old California man named Jeffrey Brett Goodin, was sentenced this June to 70 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution to his victims, including Internet service provider Earthlink.

More recently, a federal jury in Arizona convicted two men on charges--some of which fell under Can-Spam--related to an international pornography spamming enterprise they operated a few years ago.

Prosecutors have also gone after spam-related misbehavior under more general federal computer crime laws and will continue to do so, Spivack said. She pointed to a recent FBI effort with the moniker "Operation Bot Roast," which included the arrest of a Seattle man accused of using a large botnet network to fire off tens of millions of unsolicited e-mails advertising his Web site.

But one "massive challenge" that remains in apprehending spammers and enforcing antispam rules is coordinating international investigations, said Robert Shaw, head of the cybersecurity arm of the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency composed of representatives from 91 nations.

"Even people who are experts at working in this space say they still have a really hard problem finding their counterparts in other countries and getting things done in real time," he said.

 

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