How Would You Sentence A Convicted Spammer?

from the what-makes-sense? dept

We’ve covered some of the case against spammer Robert Soloway. He was arrested back in May of 2007 on criminal (rather than civil) charges. He’d already lost multimillion dollar civil lawsuits from Microsoft and an ISP. He hadn’t paid a dime of what he owed. Instead, he just kept on spamming. When he was arrested, of course, officials claimed that it would have an immediate impact on spam — but it doesn’t seem like spam has decreased at all. Earlier this year, Soloway pleaded guilty, and now the judge in the case is struggling over what the sentence should be, noting that there’s little to compare it to that may be appropriate (her closest approximation: a polluter).

Of course, Soloway is hardly the first spammer to receive a jail sentence. A few years back Jeremy Jaynes received nine years in jail for spamming. This certainly seemed excessive, no matter how much you hate spam. It seems like there would be better ways to punish spammers than give them sentences worse than some violent offenders. And, of course, for all the talk about how these long sentences would deter spammers, the only thing it seems to have deterred is their willingness to so openly brag about their achievements. There’s more spam than ever before and it’s harder than ever to track the spammers down. So, are there more creative ideas for how Soloway should be dealt with beyond just locking him up? Update In related news, another spammer has just been given 30 months in jail.

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Comments on “How Would You Sentence A Convicted Spammer?”

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anti-spam says:


I’m so biased against spammers, I’d propose a sentence that would probably violate the 8th amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment:

Solway should be force to read —aloud, just so we know he’s really reading— every single piece of spam that he ever sent. Every single spam. Every one. Read ’em and weep.

anti-spam says:

Re: Re: Justice

I’m definitely thinking of things that are both cruel *and* unusual. Most of them involve him being violated or having pain inflicted on him just once by every person who ever received a spam from him.

How does lashing him with a wet noodle sound? Sentence him to be lashed with a wet noodle one-hundred million times…

Or slapping him on the wrist? Maybe that’s even better… Slap him on one wrist fifty million times or so, and then slap his other wrist fifty million times.

(There about over a billion people on the ‘net these days, and 10% seems like a good, rough estimate of the number of people Solway’s spammed.)

Really, any proportional sentence is going to violate the eighth amendment. So instead his sentence must be calculated strictly with an eye pour encourager les autres. IOW, the sentence should be based on deterrent effect only.

William says:

I would...

I would just have it so that he HAS to give the government his email address. Then the government would spam the crap out of him. And if he doesn’t give the government the email address hes using regularly then he gets a year in jail or so.

The reason i say only a year is because spam is annoying but can be dealt with pretty easy. I get 1,000+ spam emails a day and i just block each one separately, and now about 95% of them go to the spam folder. And with almost every single email provider having a spam blocker of some kind, it’s even less of a problem.

Disgruntled says:

Re: I would...

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but one clear spamming method is to spoof the e-mail address the spam was coming from. So, what you have admitted to be doing appears to be blocking completely innocent individual e-mail addresses, with the hope of it solving your spam problem? I see gaping flaws in your logic.

With over 1,000 spam e-mails a day, I would suggest that you attempt to learn what behavior you are exhibiting which promotes that level of spam. You might also go through your block list and make a few apologies to those persons who were blocked for no real reason.

zota (user link) says:

better sentence

Parole: five years inner city graffiti abatement and trash pickup, 8 hours a day.

They can live at home (saving the state money) and they can have a computer. But as a condition of their parole, the computer must be at least 5 years old, their internet connection must be 56k or slower, and they must use an email account without spam filters of any kind.

Anonymous Coward says:

Given that less than 3% of all mail hitting our gateway is legitimate, the rest being mostly spam and some viral mail, I’d say 9 years isn’t excessive to me at all.

From an administrative standpoint, there’s a significant overhead cost associated with this that by far trumps the inconvenience of receiving spam as an end user.

One could argue that even without the costs added in, spam is on the same level as harassment. Let’s just convict him of 9 million counts of harassment, make him serve each sentence after the next and be done with him.

Old Guy says:

Re: Re:

“What ever happened to spam filters? I think I have received a total of 2 spam messages sense I have switched to gmail many moons ago.”

I think you may have hit on a way to have the punishment fit the crime. Make him work as a human spam filter for the next 5 years or so. He could work for one of the many large charity organizations. He would, for example, be responsible for personally examining EVERY piece of mail that comes into the United Way.

Bink says:

Let it fit

I get about 10,000 spam a day and it is increasing at an alarming rate.

It would please me if the convicted spammer could be sent to jail where he would be allowed the use of a computer which has its outgoing services disabled. Then he should be required to collect 365 Get Out of Jail tokens from email messages which will be buried, one per day, in as much spam as he is convicted of having sent. This means he must sort through thousands or perhaps millions of useless messages, and find the one gem in the pile, day after day, just as I have to do. Perhaps there could even be a webcam and a site showing the spammers at work.

If he is diligent, he can secure his release in a year.

Disgruntled says:

Not paying court-mandated fines: Jail, and plenty of comparable court evidence on that subject.

Spamming: Mandatory work for an allotted period of time to identify address farming, spam filter avoiding and spam technique methods with a government agency to come up with a comprehensive methodology of dealing with eliminating spam. (reference: Frank Abagnale Jr.)

Disgruntled says:

Re: Re:

One additional point: There is plenty of evidence of “computer criminals” having their computer access restricted after their jailtime (reference: Kevin Mitnik). If this were to be enforced, I would hope to see the spammer not able to own or access any computer, including PCs, laptops, Internet-enabled cell phones, smart-appliances, etc. Depending on the judge, make him bank at tellers and forbid him from using an ATM machine.

Make him suffer without his luxuries, and maybe THAT will curb his willingness to abuse and lose them all again.

Huh? says:

The War on Spam

Well looking at this from the point of view of the State, I would think they would want to hire him to spread propaganda. Of course the government isn’t that efficient, so they will probably just rob the tax payers of more of the fruit of their labors so they can put him in prison for a prolonged period. Plus the State will most likely let a murder or rapist out early to make room. The only thing more wastefull than the war on spam is the war on drugs.

Formerly Anonymous Coward says:

A Fair punishment idea

1. Fine the spammer enough to make spamming cost more than it is worth. (already done)
2. If the fined party does not pay assigned fines within a specified time, they go to jail and earn current labor rates (about $1/day atm) to pay off their fine.
3. Parole or release for good behavior etc… under the condition that the next missed payment on the fine will put you back in prison.
4. Further convictions put you back in jail just like missing payments.

jonnyq says:

Misleading spam should be punished the same as any other false advertising. Scamming should be punished just like any other non-computer related scam. Anything left – truthful advertisements for legal products, even if they’re v1agra – should not be punished, or at worst, punished the same way as unsolicited snail mail is punished (it’s usually not).

The fact is that our system of email is too open to abuse. We should be fixing the protocol, and not jailing the people that abuse an easily abused system. Any punishment they do receive should be the result of OTHER laws they’re breaking, such as scamming, hacking and false advertisement.

Beta says:

Re: Re:

I completely agree. It’s easy to send spam that can’t be traced, so punishing a spammer won’t change the ambient spam levels, so there’s really no point (except exacting revenge on one for the bad behavior of many, which I think society shouldn’t do).

There are much better countermeasures than spam filters, and when we’re ready we’ll start using them.

Jono says:

Fines and community service

Yes money is spent blocking spam, but spammers shouldn’t get jail time if no one was hurt. THe guy obviously has a skill that could easily be converted to something a little more useful in society.

The ones that should be severely punished are the ones paying the spammer to spam and have knowledge that it’s occurring. They can’t even claim ignorance, if everyone gets the spam then at some point the seller is going to get their own spam.

mojo says:

I agree that jail time should be a last resort – remember, it costs us money to keep people behind bars, and for every non-violent person in jail, someone who SHOULD be there will walk due to overcrowding.

Barring them from computer access will hurt them most; it will be worse than jail time for them and they’ll be forced to earn a living the hard way.

In this day and age, taking away computer access is a very severe punnishment – especially for someone who’s life revolved around it.

Make them pay restitution and save the jail time for only if they violate sentencing terms (i.e. are caught using a computer).

Any would-be spammer would think twice about how they make a living if they knew their computer access would be taken away.

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Barring them from computer access will hurt them most

As I commented upthread, the guy who has been caught and is in the dock is most likely a middle-manager type who hired programmers anonymously to write a “turnkey” system. He could keep on running this from a simple office with a typewriter and a ‘phone. Everyone assumes the person who got caught was some sort of “super-hacker”. He wasn’t, necessarily – he ran the company. Despite popular preconceptions it’s still possible to run a company without a computer.

John (profile) says:


To posters #2 and #11:
I think forcing the spammer to read every single one of his e-mails is a great punishment. Even make him read the ones that are garbage and nonsense characters.

Who should listen? How about his parents, for starters. Let them hear how their son is sending out spam for “Canadian drugs” and other unmentionables.

Then have him read the spam e-mails to his kids? You say the kids are too young to hear about x-rated porn spam? Too bad- that’s what their daddy does.

Maybe the he should go into a school and talk about spam e-mails on the “What my father does for a living” day. Then, he should read every spam e-mail until the teacher decides the kids in the class have been traumatized enough.

NR says:

He lost a civil suit (big one) and blew it off then was convicted criminally. Do I believe if given the opportunity this man would set up shop immediately and no think twice about it? Yes I do!

He owes money…big money which he can’t afford nor pay back if he is jailed. Make him work off the lawsuit…that should keep him busy for the rest of his life!

You never know says:

As a refresher, I posted a bit on Online predators. “When released from jail (with over crowding that won’t take long) the offender would be placed on a international data base.” Now this will take work and cost the government so to offset that cost, Convicted spammers will be have to create and maintain this data base using a tightly restricted ISP/Proxy server so they can not create more spam. In turn they will have to also list their own identity as moderators and answer questions from the parolees on the list and act as the help desk for the listless’. This would all have to take place using their own equipment, and pay the Criminal Listing ISP/Proxy,( the only one they will be allowed to use) thus creating a profit source for the agency created to monitor their progress. I know, it would be in violation of some privacy act created to protect the guilty, but I can dream can’t I?

Joe says:

Punishment is hopeless

Even if we sentence spammers to death, SPAM will continue. We need a better system to maintain trusted e-mail servers which get feedback and lock out accounts responsible for outgoing SPAM. Mail servers that don’t take reasonable steps to block outgoing SPAM should just be ignored by the whole internet community.

Beta says:

Re: Punishment is hopeless

We need a better system to maintain trusted e-mail servers which get feedback and lock out accounts responsible for outgoing SPAM.

This solution has problems. A spammer can gin up new accounts easily (if they’re free– otherwise there are many other problems). An innocent victim of a zombie virus can lose email access. A hacker can send phony feedback and get innocents kicked off the servers.

I’ve been thinking about two other approaches. One involves digital cash, which nobody seems interested in implementing, the other involves digital tags I call passports: I make up a few of these and distribute them to my friends, who attach them to any mail they send to me. My email robot destroys any incoming message that doesn’t have a passport. I can include a passport with a post in a public forum (like this one) which any reader can use to contact me, or with my letter to a stranger, or whatever. If I receive spam, I simply strike that passport from my robot’s list (and maybe chide the person to whom I entrusted it, and maybe distribute a new one). All of this can be done by hand, or managed invisibly by email software. The important thing is that it doesn’t require ridding the world of spam.

Dimitri says:

blowing ego

How about blowing up a driven force of a “bad” guys ego? Just expose they delusions. Does anybody met a happy dickhead (businessman or politician) no matter how reach he is? Who admires or respects reach morons selling a crap? Nobody. They family, friends (if any) ether cowardly envy or hate him and do rob or wish to rob him. Everybody just pretending respect him to get peace of pie. And he buys this?! What is the point of make of buck out of bullshit? To buy good bullshit and get f-ed till the end of the life? To be famous moron?! They must be brain damaged to believe in its own bullshit. What an honor for a human.

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