Ed Felten, spam-vigilante martyr

Ed "Tinkerer" Felten sent out a notice of his new blog to a mailing-list and got fingered as a spammer with the Lord-of-the-Flies crew at SpamCop, who blackballed his email address with no appeal, and as a consequence, his ISP shut down his account — it was that or have their mail-relays on everyone's blacklist.

I recently set up a web site at www.freedom-to-tinker.com. It's a weblog
containing my commentary on various issues. Earlier this week, my ISP shut
off the site, because the site had appeared on a list of "spammers"
published by an outfit called SpamCop.

Apparently, this happened because one person, whose identity I was not
allowed to learn, had sent SpamCop an accusation saying that he had received
an unwanted e-mail message, which I was not allowed to see, that did not come
from me but that did mention my web site. On that "evidence" SpamCop
declared me guilty of spamming and decreed that my site should be shut down.
Never mind that I had never sent a single e-mail message from the site.
Never mind that my site was not selling anything.

Naturally, I was not allowed to see the accusation, or to learn who had
submitted it, or to rebut it, or even to communicate with an actual human
being at SpamCop. You see, they're not interested in listening to
complaints from spammers.

With help from my ISP, I eventually learned that the offending message was
sent on a legitimate mailing list, and that the person who had complained
was indeed subscribed to that list, and had erroneously reported the message
as unsolicited. Ironically, the offending message was sent by someone who
liked my site and wanted to recommend it to others. Everybody involved (me,
my ISP, the person who filed the complaint, and the author of the message)
agreed that the report was an error, and we all told this to SpamCop.
Naturally, SpamCop failed to respond and continued to block the site.

Why did my ISP shut me down? According to the ISP, SpamCop's policy is to
put all of the ISP's accounts on the block list if the ISP does not shut
down the accused party's site.

Note the similarities to the worst type of Stalinist "justice" system:
conviction is based on a single anonymous complaint; conviction is based not
on anything the accused did but on favorable comments about him by the
"wrong" people; the evidence is withheld from the accused; there is no
procedure for challenging erroneous or malicious accusations; and others are
punished based on mere proximity to the accused (leading to shunning of the
accused, even if he is clearly innocent).

Note also that the "evidence" against me consisted only of a single unsigned
e-mail message which would have been trivial for anyone to forge. Thus
SpamCop provides an easy denial of service attack against a web site.

The only bright spot in this picture is that our real justice system allows
lawsuits to be filed against guys like SpamCop for libel and/or defamation.
My guess is that eventually somebody will do that and put SpamCop out of



(Thanks, Bruce!)