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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    technomage (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 9:50am

    sentence

    most unlucky hackers are usually barred from electronic devices for a period of time, as well as some institutionalization. Spammers should be classified as something similar, and have the tools of the trade removed from them for a length of time, and then only returned when they can show rehabilitation.

     

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    Wraith, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 9:58am

    Spam and water for 20 years. And I don't mean the meat stuff I mean the printed spam emails.

     

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    Blue, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:02am

    Earnestly, he should get jail time NOT for spamming, BUT for failure to pay the prior fines.

     

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    anti-spam, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:04am

    Justice

    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.

     

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    William, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:04am

    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.

     

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    zota, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:06am

    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.

     

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    Peet McKimmie (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:07am

    Excessive? 9 Years? Not at all.

    While the impact of an individual SPAM message is less than that of being a victim of violence you must remember to multiply this by the number of offences.

    I would sentence egregious and repeated SPAMming with no hint of remorse on a par with manslaughter.

     

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    gryphon84, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:11am

    spammers should get some time behind bars, but after they're out take away their technology, computers etc. so they ca't spam again.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:15am

    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.

     

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    Haywood, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:16am

    house arrest with no internet

    House arrest 1 year with no internet for life, suspended life sentence as a basis. Get caught on the internet once and the full impact of the sentence would be restored.

     

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    asdf, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:16am

    Re: Justice

    but who is the poor fool that gets to listen?

     

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    asdf, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:18am

    I think this just falls under computer crime. Take away their tech, and be done with it. Don't waste tax dollars on these morons.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:20am

    white collar prison or federal pound me in the ass prison?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:20am

    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.

     

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    chris (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:22am

    make them work for the goodguys

    wheny ou get busted for something that the government can't prevent or even understand, you should be sentenced to work for the government at minimum wage. the fbi did it with an identity thief and i think it had some real effect.

     

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    Mark, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:25am

    Appropriate punishment

    Since it takes time to review and delete the spam, how about he serves 10 seconds for each spam message! Seems fair to me. So is he sent messages to 1,000,000 people he should serve 100,000 minutes in prison or just under 2 years.

     

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    Tim, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:32am

    I HATE SPAMMERS

    There is not enough punishment for spammners. I think it starts with cutting off their fingers and then it gets worse from there...

     

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    Bruce, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:33am

    Punishment

    Put him to work tracking down other spammers. Sentence each new spammer caught to do the same.

     

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    Leroy, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:36am

    penalty for spamming

    Death Penalty for him and his family. More right to execution, no appeal, no waiting period. Make it public, put it on world-wide TV. This would have a chilling effect on spammers world-wide.

    (this is not intended to be taken seriously)

     

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    Alex, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:37am

    Zota (#6) has the right idea. Jail should be reserved for dangerous/flight-risk offenders. There are cheaper, more effective ways to deal with crime

     

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    Bink, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:38am

    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.

     

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    anti-spam, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re: Justice

    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.
    but who is the poor fool that gets to listen?

    Oh, we'll get a machine to do the listening part.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:41am

    Re: Whatever happened to spam filters

    Have you checked your filtered spam? My filters have been carefully tuned and most of my contacts are whitelisted, and still, spam gets through, and legitimate messages are lost.

     

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    AJ, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:41am

    CAN SPAM

    I'd be MORE than happy to buy a silver bullet to put in this guy. Seriously, they're like child molesters... once hooked, they're never cured. He'll always keep coming back -- think Fatal Attraction.

     

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    Tony, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:44am

    Re:

    Yes, the printed stuff. Forcing someone to eat the processed meat-flavored food product for 20 years would be cruel and unusual.

     

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    Disgruntled, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:47am

    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.)

     

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    Disgruntled, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:55am

    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.

     

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    Johnny Canada, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:57am

    1 day in jail for each spam mail sent.

    Oh and as this is a computer crime, like Hacking, he is a threat to National Security so off to Gitmo for him.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    Re: penalty for spamming

    But your idea should be taken seriously. It's the right one. Screw ethics, it comes down to a matter of if a dirty spammer deserves to live. The answer is clear. In the words of Mortal Kombat...

    FINISH HIM!

     

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    Disgruntled, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 10:59am

    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.

     

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    Gary, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:05am

    Death by hanging until dead.

     

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    Huh?, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:11am

    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.

     

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    Formerly Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:11am

    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.

     

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    David, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:11am

    Re: better sentence

    I like this one!!!!

     

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    Old Guy, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:13am

    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.

     

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    Alex, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:18am

    Exile/Death/Public Flogging

    These people are refuse.

    Think about it. They're actively trying to cheat people, get around tons of preventative measures people have put in place to do so. They are garbage. I just want them gone, I don't care how.

     

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    Aim, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:20am

    Who pays the spammer and why don't we persue those who hire spammers? Close the market on spam!... then, no spamER.

     

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    Valkor, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:22am

    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.

     

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    Anthony, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:23am

    Re:

    I like this one

     

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    Anthony, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:24am

    Re: Re:

    he means paper with spam on it

     

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    WarOtter (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    In a perfect world..

    In a perfect world... spammers would get caught, go to jail, and share a cell with many men who have enlarged their penisses, taken Viagra and are looking for a new relationship.

    Copied from Bash

     

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    jonnyq, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:25am

    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.

     

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    James, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    death by firing squad...

    ...starting at the kneecaps and working their way up.

     

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    anti-spam, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:39am

    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.

     

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    Jono, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 11:49am

    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.

     

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    Georgy, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:01pm

    and the most appropriate punishment is....

    .. make him my butler :)

    Spam hasn't killed anybody. Just fine him and let him go.

     

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    Peet McKimmie (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Fines and community service

    THe guy obviously has a skill that could easily be converted to something a little more useful in society.


    Chances are that the guy in the dock is a mediocre manager at best who anonymously hired a squad of programmers. Would you really consider more managers useful?

     

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    mojo, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:05pm

    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.

     

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    John, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:06pm

    Punishment

    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.

     

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    Simon Green, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:06pm

    Appropriate punishment

    I'm thinking something out of A Clockwork Orange. You know, strapped to a chair with your eyes jammed open and forced to watch ad after ad after ad for penis enlarging low-fat mortgages approved while you wait, all to the sound of that sweet, sweet, Ludwig Van.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Cut his balls off.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Alex

    This specific man IS a flight risk. He's been given multiple fines, and fled without paying them

     

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    Beta, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:09pm

    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.

     

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    Quaker in a Basement, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:11pm

    Sentence?

    Handwritten apologies. Millions of 'em.

     

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    Overcast, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:13pm

    4000+ hours of community service would seen fitting.

    And yes - written apologizes to all those he was spamming.

     

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    Peet McKimmie (profile), Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:15pm

    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.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    No internet use for years.

    I don't think a lot of jail time is appropriate, but I think banning him from the internet for a long time(years). Then every time he does violate that, put him in jail for an amount of time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:43pm

    death by crushing

     

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    NR, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    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!

     

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    Gates-just-gates, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 1:25pm

    SPAM

    Convicted spammers should be sentenced to work for an open source anti-spam software projet, at minimum wage.

     

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    You never know, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 1:39pm

    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?

     

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    Joe, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 2:42pm

    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.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 3:01pm

    How about locking the spammer in a room for 2 weeks while a constant line of people files past the door screaming about fantastic new penile enhancement products. Constantly.

     

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    ehrichweiss, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Appropriate punishment

    Your math is off. 0.1 minutes is 6 seconds, not 10.

     

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    Andrew, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 3:29pm

    Leave him to me. I get it done! :)

    Cut off their finger tips. then add salt and lemon drops to the flesh. make him scream. repeat daily by using sanding paper on the wounds, use salt and lemon drops..

    rinse and repeat.

    cruel. very curel indeed but should be effective. send the video to the other spammers.

     

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    Beta, Jul 16th, 2008 @ 3:54pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  67.  
    icon
    JS Beckerist (profile), Jul 17th, 2008 @ 5:40am

    Re: sentence

    I believe that if a volume could be determined, than the spammer should be forced to pay per email sent. If they can't pay the fine, a "time per dime" jail sentence should do.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  68.  
    identicon
    Dimitri, Jul 20th, 2008 @ 7:02pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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