Big 'Bounty' Sought to Catch Spammers

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Lemke, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Federal Trade Commission told Congress yesterday that a proposed "bounty" to catch spammers is flawed, but could be helpful if rewards are high enough.

The FTC said most people don't have the technical knowledge to track down senders of junk e-mail, but that the lure of big money - between $100,000 and $250,000 - could persuade spammers to turn on one another.

Congress asked the FTC for a report on feasibility of the bounty system as part of the federal Can-Spam Act, which went into effect Jan. 1.

The bounty concept gained popularity after it was advocated by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor, who noted that traditional law enforcement was ill-equipped to tackle the spam problem. Spam makes up as much as 75 percent of all e-mail sent worldwide and costs businesses more than $10 billion in lost productivity and services each year, technology analysts say.

A provision for the creation of a bounty was inserted into the Can-Spam Act at the last minute by Sen. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Democrat, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat.

The FTC stopped short of telling Congress that the bounty system should be created. But it said such a system should have rewards high enough to encourage insiders to identify spammers.

The FTC also said rewards should be paid through appropriations, rather than with money from civil suits, and that the FTC's decisions on rewards should be exempt from judicial or administrative review.

In a written opinion to the FTC, Stanford computer-science professor Dan Boneh criticized the bounty concept, arguing that the average citizen likely would be duped by the many layers of deceit that spammers use to mask their identity and location. …