One of the biggest ISP's in the US last week took the unprecedented decision to block all email originating from Britain, claiming that we are nothing but a nation of pornographers and spam mongers.
A story, which appeared in the New Scientist Thursday, claims the action was taken by IDT, a New Jersey-based provider, in response to a wave of unsolicited and offensive e-mails received by some of its customers.
IDT claims that it traced the concerted spam attack back to the University of Leeds. Staff at the University however say that the email assault was not the work of some porn-crazed student but was in fact due to a security hole that allowed an outsider to hijack the institution's servers and channel.
A spokeswoman confirms that the spamming was due to a malevolent outsider and says it is disappointing that IDT did not contact anyone before laying the blame on the university.
"We have absolutely no record of them lodging a complaint or anything," she says. "It was assessed by our network team who discovered that someone just found an opening."
This sort of thing happens all the time apparently. Some people just get their kicks from scanning networks for holes, and this is how someone managed to bounce email from here."
This spokeswoman also says that the way in which the hole was exploited means that the spam could quite feasibly have originated from the US or anywhere else in the world, making IDT's ban on all communications from the UK seem even more ill-advised.
A Eduardo Ustaran, a solicitor at law firm Paisner and Co. who specialises in cases concerning unsolicited email, sees IDT's blanket ban on all UK email as excessive. "In my view this is a disproportionate measure," he says. "This blocks a huge number of innocent users completely shutting them down."
Eduardo also makes the point that the ban would not necessarily even effect the genuinely guilty party. He adds, "Spammers often use fake domain names so this measure is not even realistic."
No IDT spokesperson was available for comment.