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ICANN refuses to pull Spamhaus domain

Fears over loss of junk mail blacklist recede

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Internet governance organisation ICANN has said it does not have the authority to suspend the website of The Spamhaus Project.

An Illinois court last week proposed pulling Spamhaus.org in response to a lawsuit brought against the anti-spam organisation by an company it accuses of spamming.

The threat of domain loss came after the anti-spam organisation refused to comply with a September ruling by a US court requiring it to pay $11.7m in compensation to e360 Insight, pull the organisation's listing, and post a notice stating that it was wrong to say e360 Insight was involved in sending junk mail.

In the proposed court order, published last week, Judge Charles Kocoras of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois calls on either ICANN or Tucows, the Spamhaus.org registrar, to pull or suspend the domain in response to Spamhaus's non-compliance with the court's original ruling.

Spamhaus chief executive Steve Linford said that suspension of its domain could create an "enormous amount of damage on the internet".

ICANN's stance of declining authority on the affair passes the onus onto Tucows, the Spamhaus.org registrar. Since Tucows is based in Canada, and not the US, it's in a much better position to decline to apply the court's request. So the threat of the loss of Spamhaus's domain appears to have receded, at least for now.

UK-based Spamhaus Project declined to defend itself in the case, arguing that the US courts lack jurisdiction. The voluntary organisation ignored the Illinois court on principle amid concern that fielding a defence might open it up to a barrage of nuisance lawsuits by spammers.

The loss of the Spamhaus domain would, at minimum, reduce the effectiveness of its services. Spamhaus maintains a blacklist of IP addresses used by spammers that's widely used by ISPs and organisations as a "first-level defence" in weeding out junk mail traffic. According to Spamhaus, its list help block 50bn spams per day.

Suspending its services could potentially result in a huge increase of unwanted junk hitting mail server queues all over the world. ISPs and end-users commonly use other spam-filtering techniques independent of Spamhaus so all these extra spam messages would not necessarily hit users inboxes. Removal of Spamhaus's services would still, however, put an additional unwarranted burden on computing infrastructures.

In technical terms, Spamhaus could move onto a separate domain not under US control, but such an action might leave it at risk of being held in criminal contempt by US judges. ®

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