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Heard on the Beat: Feds dishing up spam

March 31, 1998
Web posted at: 11:43 AM EST (1143 GMT)


The FBI uses many methods in its crusade against crime and, according to a few angry residents of cyberspace, one of those methods looks suspiciously like "spam."

In February, the FBI sent bulk e-mail, titled "Militants Call for Anti-U.S. Attacks Worldwide," to thousands of online addresses.

The missive warned that Islamic militants had issued "a religious decree calling on Muslims everywhere to attack U.S. citizens, facilities and allies of the U.S. around the world."

While it may have been considerate of the FBI to issue the warning, it left people like John Bolding, owner of a tiny software company in Tucson, wondering why he was one of its recipients.

A fanatical foe of spam, unwanted bulk e-mail, Bolding conducted an investigation of his own. He said he learned that the message had been sent to thousands of high-tech companies, even though they weren't terrorism targets.

Bolding said he was perplexed, then outraged. "They're using tax dollars to send out spam," said Bolding, who posted the FBI message on his company's Web site, at

FBI officials said the e-mail messages were simply a new wrinkle in a long-standing effort to raise awareness of terrorism by sending advisories to companies that want occasional updates.

The FBI assembled the e-mail list partly from various published directories, said Ron VanVranken, an FBI spokesman. He added that the agency received only two complaints and removed those addresses.

"We just want to protect Americans," said VanVranken. Bolding said he had his name taken off the list, although the agent he contacted asked him if his attempts to block the e-mail were part of "some kind of new un-American subversive activity."

So while Bolding still gets hundreds of spam messages each week, none of them is from the FBI, restoring normalcy to his relationship with the spy agency.

"Except there is a sedan parked out front with guys wearing trench coats," he said. "Just joking."

Hands Off

The Internet Council of Registrars, a nonprofit group of businesses hoping to make money by registering new domain names, has registered its distaste for the Clinton administration's plan for privatizing the Internet.

In fact, the group -- known as CORE -- objected to the federal government's mere presence in the debate over the future of Internet governance.

The U.S. government should "step aside quietly and allow the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to become a private, nonprofit U.S. corporation managing the (domain name system) as it has for more than 15 years," said Alan Hanson, chairman of CORE's executive committee.

CORE evolved out of a multiyear effort on the part of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the Internet Society and other online groups to change the network's focus from an academic to a commercial institution. The White House joined the debate two months ago with a report called the Green Paper.

The National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration in the Commerce Department is now reviewing comments about the Green Paper and is expected to issue a final report this year.

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