U.K. spammer gets two-month curfew

Teen receives sentence for sending 5 million e-mails to a former employer that crashed the company's servers.

A U.K. teen pleaded guilty on Wednesday to breaking the Computer Misuse Act by crashing the e-mail server of his former employer.

David Lennon, 18, was then sentenced to a two-month curfew by a judge in the Wimbledon Magistrates court.

Lennon had originally been cleared of the charges in November 2005, after another judge ruled that it wasn't an offense to overwhelm an e-mail server with millions of messages. This ruling was later challenged by the Crown Prosecution Service. In May 2006, the case was sent back to the Magistrates Court.

On Wednesday, the judge ruled that Lennon should be subject to a curfew, which means he must stay at home between the hours of 12.30 a.m. and 7a.m. on weekdays, and between 12.30 a.m. and 10 a.m. on weekends. If he breaks this curfew, he risks a more serious sentence.

The curfew has been timed so as not to interfere with Lennon's work at a local cinema. The judge said it was a "happy coincidence" that it will end the day before Lennon starts college in September.

The prosecution dropped its demand that Lennon should pay costs amounting to $55,000 (29,000 pounds), which arose from his attack on Domestic & General Group in which 5 million e-mails crashed its servers.

The defense argued that Lennon should receive a conditional discharge, given the confusion over whether the Computer Misuse Act outlawed the sending of masses of e-mails. The judge, though, argued that this was inappropriate.

"Even given his age at the time, this was a grave offense and caused serious damage, so I need to impose something to make him think again," the judge told the court.

The Computer Misuse Act, which was introduced in 1990, explicitly outlaws the "unauthorized access" and "unauthorized modification" of computer material. Section 3, under which Lennon was charged, concerns unauthorized data modification and tampering with systems.

Lennon's original case was heard by a district judge, who ruled that massive amounts of e-mail did not violate the Computer Misuse Act because e-mail servers were set up to receive e-mails. As such, each individual email could be ruled to make an "authorized modification" to the server.

The Computer Misuse Act is now seen as insufficient to combat the rise of cybercrime such as denial-of-service attacks. A series of amendments are being introduced by the government to update it.

Colin Barker and Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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