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Spam suit rings on Sprint

The pin drops on a Utah lawsuit alleging that the telephone giant sent out unsolicited e-mail, in violation of a recent law. If guilty, Sprint faces a $10 fine for each message since May 7.

Sprint Communications is facing a lawsuit in Utah alleging that it sent unsolicited commercial messages, or spam, in violation of a recently enacted state statute.

The class-action lawsuit, Terry Gillman v. Sprint Communications, was filed Thursday in the Third District Court of Salt Lake County. It charges that Sprint breached Utah law, which requires commercial e-mail to include legitimate contact information, valid means to avoid future messages and a subject line containing the prefix "ADV."

Privacy and spam expert Ray Everett Church said that the suit is one of the first to hit a major telephone company.

"Spam suits are becoming to be a little bit more common," he said. "There's very little truthful information in the vast majority of spam, and when you have state laws that deal with forged information, that gives consumers a bit more mobility to go after spammers and sue for value."

The company could face fines of $10 per violation, or per e-mail sent, dating back to May 7, 2002. Utah?s law mirrors that of Washington state, which was the first state in the nation to implement an anti-spam law.

In a rare twist, Sprint requested that the court require the plaintiff, Gillman, to turn over his hard drive in the discovery process. Instead, the judge ordered Sprint and the plaintiff to save all electronic records that may have be relevant to the case.

"The Sprint motion appeared to be a retaliatory attempt to bully and intimidate our client," said Denver Snuffer, partner at Nelson Snuffer Dahle & Paulsen, which filed the suit. "There are an estimated 1.4 million Internet users in Utah who may have received Sprint spam, and to ask that many people to literally remove and deliver their hard drives to Sprint is ridiculous.

"Naturally, the plaintiffs would be unable to use their computers without a hard drive, and Sprint has not offered to give them one to use in its place."

Sprint could not be immediately reached for comment.

Utah's anti-spam statute was enacted on May 8. It allows fines of up to $10 per day for each unsolicited e-mail received by the plaintiff, or $25,000 per day for as long as the violation continues.