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British Teen Cleared in "E-mail Bomb" Case 155

legaleagll writes "According to this article , a British Judge has ruled that a teen who sent approximately 5,000,000 e-mails to his former employer was not in violation of the U.K.'s Computer Misuse Act. It appears that the Computer Misuse Act is a bit outdated being that it was created 15 years ago when a number, perhaps most, of the current methods for misuse of computers were not contemplated."
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British Teen Cleared in "E-mail Bomb" Case

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  • by Palal ( 836081 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @12:44AM (#13938556) Homepage
    How do we strike a balance between a piece of legislation that covers any crime that may not have been thought up yet, without prohibiting activities that are not necesserily criminal that will be invented in the future? This is something that no country has come up with yet and this is unlikely to happen any time soon due to various governments in power. (cough)
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @12:45AM (#13938562)
    Perhaps it is time for that business to invest in a more modern mail server. Indeed, even the lowliest of Dell servers running Linux or FreeBSD can easily handle 5 million email messages, even if sent in a very short period of time. A large amount of mail should never cause the server to completely crash, even if it does consume much bandwidth and cause other delays.

  • Proof... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hoka ( 880785 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @12:48AM (#13938576)
    That law has a hard time keeping up with technology. It takes a long time for laws to be made, changed, proven, and stand up in court. It doesn't take nearly as long in the technological world for attacks, defenses, and things in general to change. This is where a lot of the problems are coming from, since most of the time when you get things that are pushed out quickly there are all sorts of acts or laws such as the DMCA or Canadian Do-Not-Call list) which contain all sorts of problems in one way or another. It's just a shame it will take so long for things to really shape up.

    Really quite a predicament when too fast means you get poorly written laws, and too slow means the bad guys can work "legally" for a while...
  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @12:54AM (#13938593)
    Would my server straight out die? Of course not. It would queue the messages for as long as possible, and if the server happened to run out of disk space, it would begin rejecting the messages. The one thing it would not do is crash.

  • spam (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Cave_Monster ( 918103 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @01:16AM (#13938680)
    While he got off on the computer misuse charge, what about spamming? Couldn't it be argued he was sending unsolicited email to this bloke? Do the UK have such laws?
  • by grogdamighty ( 884570 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @01:33AM (#13938753) Homepage
    The obvious answer is that legislation should be for there here and now, updated as necessary for changes in society. Rather, any "enduring" legal work should be through the constitution - the basic rights fleshed out by legislation.

    Thus, the Second Amendment allows citizens to bear arms so that they are never helpless before the government, but more current legislation is designed to keep criminals from using guns to harm citizens (no concealed weapons in certain locales, background checks, etc.)

  • by nunchux ( 869574 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @01:56AM (#13938825)
    I don't like the idea of laws that foresee possible misuses of technology in the future, because by their nature they would have to be so vague that they would almost certainly have an adverse affect on freedom. Of course the DMCA is an example of this.

    Really, it should be extremely difficult to pass a new law, and it should be clear that there is a solid need for it. Yes, that means the first people who commit crimes using new technology in new ways may not be prosecuted (note that I'm not talking about using new technology to commit EXISTING crimes), but that's better than the alternative. (And I wouldn't say in this case the kid got away scot free-- he was prosecuted, which at the very least is a scary thing, and potentially costly in legal bills as well.)

    Oh and yeah, that kind of sucks for the victim, but in some cases (like this) the matter could at least be taken to civil trial.
  • by WIAKywbfatw ( 307557 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @02:02AM (#13938870) Journal
    Sorry, but that's a pretty dumb comment. In fact, there isn't one line of it that I can't rip to shreds in seconds.

    Do you have any idea of the size of the company involved?

    For all you know, the company concerned might have no more than a handful of employees, so a mail server capable of handling 5 million emails in a short space of time would be totally inappropriate. Not all computer crime is committed against large organisations that have turnovers that are measured in millions or even billions.

    Wasting police and court time? Well, if the police were involved then there's a good chance that the prosecution was brought by the Crown Prosecution Service (ie, the government), so someone in the appropriate position of authority thought it was a sensible case to persue.

    And even if it was a civil case, well, then that's what courts are for: to listen to all the evidence, consider all the facts, and make a judgment one way or another when two parties are in dispute.
  • Re:'editors' heh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 03, 2005 @02:05AM (#13938885)
    More importantly, this is a story about an assclown who flooded an e-mail server and got away with his abusive behavior on a technicality in British law... one which will surely be corrected soon.

    How the fuck does this have anything to do with "my rights online?"

    Unless you think I have an inalienable right to be an assclown, in which case, HAND.
  • by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <[frogbert] [at] []> on Thursday November 03, 2005 @02:12AM (#13938915)
    Yeah sure its only 5 million emails, and most systems should be able to handle that. Providing of course that they were only going to one person. What if it went to all staff and there was 30 employees then you have 150 million messages and its a little bit more of a problem. Assume you posted these all at 2 am at night, at 8 the next morning all 30 people get to work and check their emails all at about the same time. Ouch
  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @02:46AM (#13939028)

    For all you know, the company concerned might have no more than a handful of employees, so a mail server capable of handling 5 million emails in a short space of time would be totally inappropriate.

    Let's see - 5M messages at 10k each = 50GB. If it were a small company, they may have only had a 1.5Mb line, so that 50GB would take about 50GB/150K/3600 = 92 hours to complete. Any mail server can handle that, and any competent admin should be able to block the messages within four days!

    Of course, a 3rd party hosted mail server could handle the mail a bit faster, so the only question is whether 50GB is an excessive amount. Since I have a 300MB quota, it might be. Then again, maybe not - disk space is cheap, and nuking one message sent to any number of people is pretty straightforward.

  • by Cl1mh4224rd ( 265427 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @03:11AM (#13939099)
    How do we strike a balance between a piece of legislation that covers any crime that may not have been thought up yet, without prohibiting activities that are not necesserily criminal that will be invented in the future?
    What if we give people the responsibility and power to evaluate a given situation as it applies to a certain law? I think we should call them "judges"...
  • by Vitus Wagner ( 5911 ) <> on Thursday November 03, 2005 @04:50AM (#13939383) Homepage Journal
    Illegal is to use lynx and to type URL manually, as was covered by previous slashdot posts.
    If this guy would be punished for annoying people by sending 3 millions E-Mails, it would set precedent to punish spammers.

    It would seriously harm advertising industry, if spam would be banned. No responsible jugde would allow this to happen.
  • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @04:53AM (#13939392) Journal
    I take you you have little/no experience working with small businesses?

    My "not credible" numbers are very typical for scenarios I work in. In this world of small enterprises, it's very normal to run an entire business with just a single server. Bitch all you want to about whatever security issues, I sure have.

    Small business owners tend to have a case of megalomania. If they can pet the box, they "own" it. Thus, they'll spend $2,000 on a server rather than $25/mo on a managed solution because they can pet the box, even as they explain about the increased downtime because they don't have a dedicated admin, like their ISP.

    Just because it's not true in your world, doesn't mean it isn't true!
  • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @05:15AM (#13939469)

    Simple you provide a set of guidelines, perhaps backed up by examples, that define misuse. For instance phrase it thus:

    Any action that deliberately sets out to damage, render unavailable or diminish in capability any computer system.

    It would be quite easy to prove that sending 3,000,000 emails to your ex-employer, especially in a short span of time, would fall foul of that law. Yes, you have to prove intent but you would have to do that anyway. Accidents wouldn't fall foul of this law but a clause for negligence could be added. The problem is that a law thus phrased would require interpretation by the jury which is something most Governments seem loath to allow them to do. The upside is that this law would be good for the foreseeable future and would probably cover most new crimes. I suppose the problem is that if we had high level laws and a true trial by jury the Govenment would rapidly lose one of it's basic functions - to make more laws.

  • by irw ( 204684 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @06:14AM (#13939641)
    The Computer Misuse Act seems to have been designed to encode the electronic equivalent of breaking-and-entering (offences 1 & 2) and criminal damage (offence 3).

    Denial of service is probably very difficult to encode in a similar fashion, since I do not see what *criminal* offence it would equate to.

    In this particular care, there is no essential difference between sending a million emails and sending a million letters by post - both would swamp the service, but equally both are simply making use of the (e)mailing infrastructure as it was designed. (Yes I know letters cost more. That's irrelevant - they require more effort to deliver, and are priced accordingly).

    Taking a different example, such as opening thousands of connections to a server with intent to deprive others' of access to it, I still can't see what equivalent physical world *criminal* offence has been committed. In this case an analogy requires many people, but what difference is it if a thousand people stand on the pavement outside a shop entrance effectively preventing other shoppers from entering, due to weight of numbers? Sure, the police can ask people to move on, which is the same as closing those open connections, no?

    Since most electronic systems only enact operations which have equivalents in the physical world, I do not see how it would be right to create a law which makes the electronic equivalent illegal, when the physical original is not. This use of legislation creates the likes of the DMCA.

    The Computer Misuse Act is a rare example of a really *good* law which is (1) broad enough to capture most offenders (2) easily tested for applicabilty i.e. not complicated with exceptions, extensions, etc and (3) not so vague that it is open to abuse.
  • by Bonobo_Unknown ( 925651 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @07:18AM (#13939784)
    What is illegal?

    Getting on trains, if you're Brazilian.
  • by hhghghghh ( 871641 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @07:55AM (#13939874)
    How do we strike a balance between a piece of legislation that covers any crime that may not have been thought up yet, without prohibiting activities that are not necesserily criminal that will be invented in the future? This is something that no country has come up with yet and this is unlikely to happen any time soon due to various governments in power. (cough)

    There are many such laws. For example, criminal damage. If you infringe on another's property rights by physically damaging his/her property (be it a horsebuggy, a door, or an iPod) without permission, that's a crime. Many laws are put in a technology-neutral way. The problem is that with new technologies, often the first laws to fight some sort of nuisance are framed in a technology-non-neutral choice of words. That's why there were junk-fax statutes even before e-mail spam came along.

    Also, there are judges and juries determining whether a certain law should apply, even if the wording is a bit off. And to what extent (e.g. 2nd amendment - not good for carrying nuclear warheads..)

    Then, finally, there's your run off the mill lawsuits, where you can get a court to compel some one to stop being a jerk and to pay damages. Not being criminal court the standards for evidence, as well as the standards for strict interpretation of the law, are a bit laxer. In general, if some one is being a jerk, you'll be able to seek judgement against them, even if what they're doing isn't a punishable offense, or even specifically legislated against - unless there's legislation spelling out it's their right to be jerks (i.e. the first amendment, though even in that case, you can slap time, manner and place restrictions on people).

    It's not that the law isn't flexible. It's just that there's a process, and different ways of seeking retribution. And sometimes you don't get to act out revenge, because something isn't on the books, or, *gasp*, some one is allowed to be a jerk.
  • Attack? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by FreakUnique ( 927847 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @09:40AM (#13940253)
    Just because this guy sent x amount of emails it doesn't take away the fact that he destroyed a computer network infrstructure, which can be applied as criminal damage. That can be recompensed by the criminal for replacing the equipment and lost revenue. On a similar note, some berk's managed to ping my website into submission so that it cannot be view for the rest of the month. If I ever find who did it then there will be serious hell to pay.
  • by irw ( 204684 ) on Thursday November 03, 2005 @09:52AM (#13940327)
    Why not set up' and launch a criminal suit against anyone who has a peek? In fact, you are officially NOT AUTHORISED to read this message.

    You wouldn't get very far with this argument. Anything placed on a website is published. Anything published is public, therefore access is de facto authorised.

    Now obviously you can put access controls on a website. But then you've taken a step to define authorised access. If you give someone a username and password, you've granted access. If someone obtains a username or password without permission, that's unauthorised. If someone bypasses this access control (and this bypass would probably have to be non-trivial; so if for example someone could cut and paste a URL which went directly to the material without being prompted, this would not apply) then it is unauthorised.

    I personally think that "computer material" was a bad choice of phrase, and that "computer system(s)" is more appropriate. I cannot think of a way in which access controls could be devised which would NOT involve the owner of a computer system defining (at least implicitly) "authorised access". I'd make the assumption that in giving permission to put computer material on a computer system the owner of the material has agreed with the owner of the system on what arrangements are made for authorised access.

    If my reading is correct it means a court gets to decide what is or is not authorised based on the circumstances, which is the Right Way IMO. Putting every conceivable situation in the Act would either be draconian or prone to loopholes as previously unconsidered situations arise.

    Please give post your e-mail address so I can send details of the criminal suit against you 5 million times.

    You're joking, of course. I suspect you could be charged with harassment (though maybe not criminally) and I would seek an injunction to stop you. Furthermore, the fact that you have made a threat which you are capable of carrying out might be common assault (which is a criminal offence).

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