Thursday, May 31, 2007

Top Spammer Arrested

According the Associated Press, the federal government has arrested a man they describe as being one of the top spammers in the world. They even claim users could notice a decrease in spam because of his arrest.

They accuse of 27 year-old Robert Alan Soloway using other people's computers to send out spam without their knowledge - so called "zombie computers". Apparently, a federal grand jury has already indicted him on several charges, including mail fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The government stated that this is the first time the federal government has charged a spammer with violating laws against identity theft.

Soloway has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Microsoft, which has been aggressive in going after spammers, won a $7 million civil judgment against him back in 2005, and the operator of a small Internet service provider in Oklahoma won a $10 million judgment. The article quotes Tim Cranton of Microsoft saying, "He's one of the top 10 spammers in the world."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

NYT: Online Ads vs. Privacy

The New York Times has an article today titled "Online Ads vs. Privacy" written by Dan Mitchell. It briefly looks at the issue of gathering personal information online.

"For advertisers, and in many ways for consumers, online advertising is a blessing. Customized messages rescue advertisers from the broad reach of traditional media. And consumers can learn about products and services that appeal directly to them.

But there are huge costs, and many dangers, warns Jennifer Granick, the executive director for the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society ( To approach individuals with customized advertising, you have to know who they are. Or at least, you have to gather enough personal information about them that their identity could be easily figured out."

For Full article, go here Online Ads vs. Privacy

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Federal Council Recommends Fair Information Practices in U.S. Privacy Law

The National Research Council has issued a voluminous report calling for sweeping changes in U.S. attitudes and approaches toward information privacy, by businesses and government. Essentially it calls for a more comprehensive, European or Canadian approach to information privacy.

The report is titled "Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age." To read about the report, go here:
To buy a copy of the full report, or read a summary of the report, go here and go to "Download Free":

This may be the most authoritative and respected federal body to issue such recommendations. In fact, given their mandate, and the nature of the issues they were addressing, their their recommendations are not all that surprising.

The report is likely to provoke discussion, and probably prompt some action at the margins. Nevertheless, it is not likely that we are going to see great changes in private sector practices or federal law as result of this report.

My description of their recommendations based on a reading of the Executive Summary:

* Application of Fair Information Practices by businesses when collecting and using personal information.

* Greater individual control over use of their personal information.

* Individual choice and consent of the use of their information.

* Mechanisms for choice and consent which genuinely inform the individual, and genuinely demonstrate their true desires regarding privacy, taking into account then tendency not to opt-out.

* Greater specific federal regulation of businesses which gather personal information on people.

* A Federal Privacy Commissioner or Privacy Commission.

* State and local privacy commissioners.

* Greater government action to protect individual information privacy.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mental Health Privacy and Guns

According to a story in the New York Times, Congress is, unsurprisingly, looking at revising mental health privacy laws in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting.

New York Times(By Michael Luo)

"Momentum is building in Congress behind a measure that would push states to report their mental health records to the federal database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

But a thicket of obstacles, most notably state privacy laws, have thwarted repeated efforts to improve the reporting of such records in the past and are likely to complicate this latest effort, even after the worst mass shooting in United States history at Virginia Tech last month.

Federal law prohibits anyone who has been adjudicated as a “mental defective,” as well as anyone involuntarily committed to a mental institution, from buying a firearm. But only 22 states now submit any mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, against which all would-be gun purchasers must be checked. "