Cybernaut 

Rethinking the death penalty

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Murder is the worst crime an individual can commit, and mass-murder is the worst crime compounded. Murder, by one definition, robs people of time they would ordinarily spend living.

By that measure, Robert Alan Soloway has murdered all of us a little bit, and deserves capital punishment for all the cumulative time he has wasted — enough to live hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

If you’re not familiar with Soloway, he is a 27-year-old Seattle resident who has been identified as the worst spammer operating in the U.S. He was also charged with identity theft, fraud and money laundering when he was apprehended last week, but those crimes pale next to damage wrought by his spam empire.

Through his company, Newport Internet Marketing, he has sent billions, perhaps trillions, of unsolicited e-mails — the exact number is difficult to gauge — and was named the “worst of the worst” by Internet watchdogs at Spamhaus (www.spamhaus.org). Since he was arrested and had his servers shut down, worldwide spam has dropped by eight per cent, or six billion messages a day.

There are rules that allow companies to legally send spam in the U.S., including giving the people the opportunity to opt out of future mailings. Soloway allegedly ignored those rules, while making false claims about the products and services his company offers — such as an opt-out clause for customers and a money back guarantee. That gave his customers the false impression that they were marketing through legitimate channels.

As well, investigators found that Soloway had commandeered various zombie servers — basically hacked computers — to send spam e-mails on his behalf. Not only did that make it difficult to track e-mails back to Soloway’s company, it also resulted in several legitimate servers being blocked and blacklisted for sending spam.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of complaints have been lodged about Soloway’s company to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and Washington State attorney general’s office.

Soloway faces up to 75 years in jail for his offences, instead of the electric chair. Even with time off for good behaviour he’s going to be very, very old when he gets out of prison if all of the charges stick.

Putting Soloway behind bars will send a strong message to other U.S.-based spammers, but will do little to halt the international spam situation. Still, it’s an encouraging step in the right direction, given that most technological solutions to the spam issue are circumvented almost as quickly as they can be released.

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