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Virginia court upholds antispam law

Court denies convicted spammer's appeal, rejects argument that the state law is unconstitutional.

The Virginia Court of Appeals upheld a state antispam law on Tuesday by affirming the conviction of the first person in the United States to face prison time for spamming.

Jeremy Jaynes was convicted in November 2004 of sending out bulk e-mails with disguised origins and being in possession of a stolen database of more than 84 million AOL subscribers' addresses. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Judge James W. Haley Jr. released an opinion (click for PDF) on behalf of a three-judge panel that struck down all of Jaynes' appeal arguments.

The facts of the case were undisputed in the appeal, according to court documents. Rather, Jaynes' attorneys appealed on the grounds that the law used to convict Jaynes was unconstitutionally vague, unconstitutional under the First Amendment and violated the Constitution's Dormant Commerce Clause. The American Civil Liberties Union, Rutherford Institute and United States Internet Service Provider Association each filed friend-of-the-court briefs in favor of the appeal.

Jurisdiction was also a matter of dispute: Jaynes' lawyers argued that while the AOL servers Jaynes routed e-mails through are located in Loudon County, Virginia, the Virginia court lacked jurisdiction because Jaynes sent the e-mails from his home in North Carolina.

"We disagree," the court said, citing previous cases upholding Virginia's right to charge people in the place where the damage of a crime results, not where it originates.

"Online fraud is a costly and serious crime. Today's ruling reinforces Virginia's Anti-Spam Act, and further protects the people of the Commonwealth from identity thieves and cyber criminals," Virginia State Attorney General Bob McDonnell said in a statement.

At the time of his arrest, Jaynes was regarded as the eighth-worst spammer by spam watchdog Spamhaus, the statement added.