A new suit is expected to be filed in the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The suit, in the name of “Project Honey
Pot,” an entity owned by Unspam Technologies, seeks to discover the identity of
the organizations that “harvest” e-mail addresses from the web in order to
resell them to marketers, typically unsolicited bulk e-mailers.
A “honey pot” in the information technology world is a
virtual trap which is set to track or realign malicious attempts to access
protected computer systems. Thus, the attackers believe that the information or
resources that they are accessing are valid, but instead the information is tainted
in some way. A common example is the “paint pack” that is placed in suitcases
of money when bank thieves attempt to rob brick and mortar banks.
Project Honey Pot works similarly by “installing” e-mail
addresses on websites that are intended to be traps for the collectors. The
e-mail addresses allow Project Honey Pot to tag the e-mail addresses to the
time and IP address of a visitor to your site. Once one of the addresses starts
to receive spam, Project Honey Pot can detect that the message is spam and the
IP address that gathered it. By consolidating the data, Project Honey Pot can
find the primary harvesting computers and domains, and assumably the identity
of the people collecting the addresses.
The suit, however, is being filed with the Defendants named
as “John Does” because the plaintiffs do not yet know the identity of the
harvesters. Filing allows the plaintiffs to obtain subpoena power to determine
the identity of the harvesters.
The Fourth Circuit, consisting of federal courts in Maryland,
Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, has been a hotbed
of anti-spam activity. Prosecutors and larger civil plaintiffs, such as AOL,
have had success there. On the other hand, smaller plaintiffs such as
Mummagraphics and others have not had as much success.
Another factor is the question of the class action. The
purported action is on behalf of a class, where thousands of people seek to
recover for the same legal claim. A former editor of a class action journal has
referred to the Fourth Circuit as the place “where class actions go to die,”
because of the Fourth Circuit’s general distaste for civil class actions.
Bottom Line: This
relatively new method of anti-spam legal action, combined with the class-action
subplot, will be particularly interesting to watch over the course of the
litigation. While there are likely many roadblocks ahead of the plaintiffs, the
novelty of the cause of action provides interesting theater that will be well
worth tuning in.