A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that they were successful in getting a preliminary victory by shutting down a huge international spammer is great news since we receive so much spam. As the consumer watch dog for US citizens the FTC has been pursuing claims against spammers under the CAN SPAM Act of 2003, but the ability to shut down a foreign operated spammers is more complicated than just getting a judge to sign an order in Chicago. The CIO at SpamHaus claims that the defendants in this lawsuit delivered up to a third of all spam.

What was going on?

These defendants used spam to market male-enhancing pills, prescription drugs, and weight-loss pills, notwithstanding that apparently the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) tests indicated serious problems for individuals who used these products. Also the defendants misrepresented that the prescription drugs were licensed by US pharmacies when in fact the drugs were shipped from India without licenses. Also the FTC investigators found that there was no security for credit card purchasers so in addition to everything else there is a concern about identity theft.

Who has jurisdiction?

In order for courts to take lawsuits there has to be proper jurisdiction, and in this instance the FTC brought its case simultaneous with charges by officials in New Zealand. But the scope of these spammers was larger than New Zealand and the US, and apparently included spammers in China, India, Russia, Canada, and the US. So it’s easy to see how the Federal Court in Chicago could seize assets in the US, but not so easy to see how effective that might be in the other countries other than New Zealand. How courts reach across international boundaries is not entirely clear including whether the French Courts really has jurisdiction over the US Yahoo! website, but since the 2000 French injunction is still in place to preclude the sale Nazi materials.