There May Be Troubles Ahead for Spamhaus

The spam investigation and blacklisting service Spamhaus has been facing legal threats recently from an alleged spammer. Thanks to some less-than-stellar handling of the legal process, a U.S. judge proposes to order Spamhaus' Internet domain to be de-registered.

Some of the discussion of this story is confusing, so here's our attempt to summarize:

  1. e360, which describes itself as a legitimate direct marketer, objected to being described by Spamhaus as a spammer. It sought legal redress in an Illinois state court.
  2. Spamhaus argued that it was a U.K. organization with no business dealings in Illinois, so the court had no jurisdiction. However, before Spamhaus decided on this defense strategy it asked the court for the case to be moved from state court to federal district court.
  3. Because Spamhaus then decided not to appear in court, the judge decided he had no choice but to enter a default judgment in favor of e360.
  4. A further, proposed order from the court would have the spamhaus.org domain removed from the Internet. This is potentially a huge problem for Spamhaus -- access to the Spamhaus blacklists is usually via a domain name system (DNS) lookup -- a query to a zone such as sbl-xbl.spamhaus.org.

For its part, Spamhaus appears nonplussed, stating that:

We think it can not actually happen, due to the effect it would have both on the Internet and on millions of users. We believe a government agency would have to step in before it happened. One U.S. government agency has begun working on a response. Before an event such as this could occur, we believe ICANN would fight the order, as ICANN understands both the technical effect as well as the political one (hint: ITU and U.S. control of the Internet).

In other words, Spamhaus is pointing to the ongoing grumbles from outside the United States about the continued control over Internet policymaking by the U.S. government. If Spamhaus were to "go dark" it may catalyze a new, strengthened effort to wrest control of the Internet from the United States.

This proposed action may seriously reduce the effectiveness of your spam filter. A separate bulletin, available to Ferris Research premium newsletter subscribers, discusses some ideas for what you can do to guard against the problem.

... Richi Jennings

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