Spam Punishment Doesn't Fit the Crime

    Date28 Dec 2004
    8716
    Posted ByBrittany Day
    I hate spam as much as the next person, but recent decisions by courts in Iowa and Virginia demonstrate how fear of technology (and justifiable annoyance) can force the legal system to impose fines and sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the harm caused by spammers. This is not to defend or justify spammers, whose actions are at best deceptive, almost always annoying, generally illegal and frequently criminal. But when people who send e-mail are punished more harshly than those who commit war crimes in Rwanda, and are fined more than companies that destroy the environment, it's time to revisit our strategy.


    The Virginia case arose out of the actions of brother and sister team Jeremy Jaynes and Jessica DeGroot, who sent thousands of spam messages from July 11th to August 9th, 2004. They were convicted in the Commonwealth of Virginia (through which it is estimated 80 percent of the world's Internet traffic flows -- thank you, AOL).

    For the month's worth of spam, at about 10,000 per day, Jaynes was sentenced in November to nine years in jail -- which is more than the median state sentence for crimes like sexual assault, robbery, assault, theft, larceny -- in fact, every crime except homicide. The nine year sentence is almost three times the median sentence for all criminal offenses nationally, which is 36 months.

    As serious a problem as spam is, I question whether nine years in the pokey is the appropriate sentence for a non-violent crime.

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