Heard on the Beat: Feds dishing up spam
March 31, 1998
Web posted at: 11:43 AM EST (1143 GMT)
FBI uses many methods in its crusade against crime and, according to
a few angry residents of cyberspace, one of those methods looks suspiciously
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
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 http://www.firstbase.com/spam.htm
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."
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
In fact, the group -- known as CORE -- objected to the federal
government's mere presence in the debate over the future of Internet
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
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.