About 2½ years ago I wrote an entry in my blog about the growing power of anti-spam outfits. I'm no fan of spammers, but when I see vigilantism, it alarms me even more than the problem it tries to correct. Vigilantes always act altruistic, but their intentions are often sinister. Generally all one needs to do to uncover their real goals is to follow the money. Sometimes it's not so obvious, but the telltale signs are there.
Now one of these guys, Spamhaus, has been successfully sued in an Illinois court. Here's the scoop. Anti-spam companies publish lists of offending domains and Internet addresses in what are known as black lists (also known as RBL for Real-time Black Lists). The list is supposed to be compiled using means such as complaints by people and decoy mailbox captures. People who manage mail servers can subscribe to these lists, thereby allowing the mail servers to identify and tag messages originating from servers in blacklists. Operators can then set up automatic procedures to deal with such emails, such as having them deleted, sent to spam folders, or alter their subject lines for users to recognize them quickly.
You might ask: "what's wrong with that?" On the surface, nothing, until you begin to consider what happens if a critical mass of servers on the Internet subscribed to these lists. What happens if a black-list operator adds a perfectly innocent domain or address to its list out of vendetta or spite. Suddenly all emails from such organization will stop flowing and their business could be paralyzed. That's way too much power to be given to someone without any accountability.
Look at what's happened in this case. The court has ruled against Spamhaus, yet they arrogantly refuse to stand down or even acknowledge their strong-arm tactics. I don't know much about the plaintiff in this case. Maybe they were spammers, but what angers me is the utter disrespect and scorn Spamhaus has for law and order. The only law they accept is their own. Perhaps Spamhaus has helped to hinder a few real spammers, but on some level they are even worse that the spammers they are supposedly battling.
*Note: My position vis-à-vis black-list operators is completely impartial. I have never sent a piece of spam, nor has my site ever landed in any black lists.