Originally appeared at http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,50761,00.html
By Michelle Delio
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,50761,00.html
09:35 AM Mar. 01, 2002 PT
A supposedly Internet-savvy Republican candidate for governor of California, one of the few states with an anti-spam law, isn’t campaigning against unsolicited e-mail — he’s sending it.
Bill Jones’ campaign sent out thousands of unsolicited e-mails this week, urging California voters to vote for Jones next Tuesday. According to posts in newsgroups and discussion lists, Jones has spammed twice before, once in December and once in January.
Jones spokesman Darrel Ng said the e-mail wasn’t spam, commonly defined as unsolicited commercial e-mail. Ng instead classified Jones’ non-commercial mass-mailing as an “innovative way to use the Internet.”
Legal experts said that Jones’ spam was “tacky, but permissible” under California law. Anti-spam activists fumed over Jones’ interpretation of the law and the way the spam was delivered.
An examination of the e-mail sent out by the Jones campaign revealed forged headers. The e-mail, purportedly sent from an MSN.com address, was actually routed through the server of an elementary school in Chonnam, Korea.
Anti-spam activists are concerned by the flood of spam from Asian domains, which has resulted in some systems administrators blocking all e-mail from Asian Internet service providers. While some of the spam from Asia is being sent by the locals, western spammers are increasingly exploiting mail servers in Asia, using them to relay the mass-mailings that their own service providers prohibit.
Ng said Jones’ campaign was unaware the e-mail was being processed from off-shore servers and promised to address the issue with the e-mail marketing vendor that did the mailings for the campaign.
The vendor was contracted to gather addresses from the Web and send Jones’ e-mail to people in California who had, by their online activities, indicated an interest in politics, Ng said.
But many who received Jones’ e-mail are not California residents. Some aren’t even U.S. citizens. Evidently, the address harvester used by Jones’ vendor assumed that all e-mail addresses containing “.ca,” a suffix that identifies a Canadian domain, belong to California residents.
“Obviously, we want to reach people who will vote for our candidate,” Ng said. “I don’t know exactly how the addresses were selected but we will discuss it with the vendor.”
Gene Riccoboni, a attorney specializing in Internet law, classified Jones’ e-mail activity as “tacky,” but said there was no legal restriction preventing Jones from sending the e-mail.
California’s anti-spam law states, “No person or entity conducting business in this state” may send “unsolicited advertising material for the lease, sale, rental, gift offer, or other disposition of any realty, goods, services or extension of credit.”
“Jones’ solicitation for votes via e-mail is clearly lawful providing that each message contains an unsubscribe link,” Riccoboni said. “And considering the fact that Californians rarely miss an opportunity to proclaim the sanctity of the First Amendment, any attempt by their state to prosecute Jones for these activities would smell of liberal politics at its worst.”
Jones’ spam did include an unsubscribe link, which led to an opt-out site hosted on the Terra network in Spain. (Terra Lycos is the parent company of Wired News). The Spanish government is currently considering implementing an anti-spam law.
One of the recipients of Jones’ e-mail was Laura Atkins of Word to the Wise, a California-based anti-spam consulting service. Atkins said she got three copies of the e-mail from Jones, at three different e-mail addresses.
“The woman who answered the phone explained that they had gotten a number of phone calls about it but that they didn’t know who had sent it,” Atkins said. “She said since the mail didn’t come through their servers that it was obvious they were not responsible, and they would never do anything so unpopular right before an election. Perhaps it was a rival trying to make Bill Jones look like a crook.”
Assuming Jones was a victim, Atkins wanted to help. But after investigating further, Atkins realized that Jones had previously “spamvertised” his campaign during the weeks of Dec. 11, 2001 and Jan. 21, 2002, as reported by MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times.
Atkins called Jones’ office again, and spoke to Ng, who confirmed that Jones’ office had approved the mailings.
“There are a number of California anti-spam laws but, like all laws, they were passed by politicians. So there is a huge loophole that permits politicians to spam,” Atkins said. “This is one reason that many of us do not like the current laws. They focus on the content of the message rather than the consent of the recipient.”
Jones, currently California’s secretary of state, has been involved in several Internet-related initiatives, including Cal-Access, which provides Internet access to California campaign finance disclosure reports.
When asked why an Internet-savvy candidate wouldn’t realize the problems inherent in sending unsolicited e-mail, Ng said that he didn’t understand why people were so upset.
“This is an innovative new way to reach out to voters,” Ng said. “It’s no more obtrusive than direct mail, and certainly less obtrusive than TV commercials.”
Jones’ website was taken offline early Friday afternoon. His Internet service provider has posted a statement on Jones’ spamming, explaining that the campaign had been warned previously that further spamming would be cause for immediate termination of Jones’ Web-hosting contract.
But Tom Yeatts, president of VirtualSprockets, Jones’ ISP, said VirtualSprockets did not shut the site down.
“The site was blackholed ‘upstream’ from us,” Yeatts said. “VirtualSprockets laid out the terms of continued hosting to the Jones campaign, and they have honored the letter, but certainly not the spirit, of those terms. These problems have given VS the appearance of impropriety, despite our having nothing to do with the spam attacks, and even though we have made every effort possible to get the campaign to understand the magnitude of its mistake.”
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