Virgin sues spam pest

Virgin Net has become the first ISP to sue a spam pest in the UK with a writ issued today against Surrey businessman Adrian Paris.

The ISP claims Paris, trading under the name ProPhoto UK, sent out more than a quarter of a million junk e-mails using a Virgin Net account, leading to over 1,500 complaints. Paris allegedly set up four separate e-mail accounts during 1998 in an attempt to sell a database of e-mail addresses.

Paris is being sued for breach of contract: All Virgin Net users sign an agreement not to "use the system to send material likely to cause annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety".

"Paris clearly breached this", according to a Virgin Net spokeswoman.

Virgin Net business development director David Johnson hopes the case will send out a clear message to spammers. "As an ISP we have a responsibility to protect our customers from potential spamming and by pursuing this case we hope that spammers will think twice before sending any unsolicited e-mail out in the future," he said. One of the results of Paris's activities was the blackholing of Virgin Net by Realtime Blackhole List (RBL), a company which blocks messages from ISPs known to be propagating spam. "We have also had to restore our reputation with other ISPs after being blackholed by RBL," Johnson said.

ISPA secretary general Nicholas Lansman backs the Virgin move: "ISPs should be encouraged to protect their users and have a duty to look after clients," he said. A tough line against spammers is also necessary to protect ISPs business interests according to Lansman. "Spamming is losing ISPs business," he said.

EuroISPA is to lobby the European Parliament, ahead of a vote on spam this week. EuroISPA presented a petition signed by over 500 Internet providers in response to what it regards as insufficient EU policy. The opt-out system proposed in the recent Electronic Commerce Bill "simply will not work," according to Jean-Christophe Le Toquin from EuroISPA. Instead the organisation proposes an opt-in system where consumers choose whether they receive unsolicited e-mail.

Lansman is aware that no system will prevent the determined spammer but believes it is up to government to take a firm stand and implement good practise. "Spam is not good for customers, it wastes their time and their money," he said.