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Lawsuit Targets 'Spam Harvesters'

An anti-spam organization filed a federal lawsuit Thursday targeting so-called spam harvesters, who facilitate the mass distribution of junk e-mail by trolling the Internet and collecting millions of e-mail addresses.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria by a Utah company called Unspam Technologies Inc. The company runs a Web site called Project Honey Pot dedicated to tracking spam harvesters worldwide.

Project Honey Pot has collected thousands of Internet addresses that it has linked to spam harvesters, but it so far has been unable to link those addresses to an actual person.

The lawsuit names a variety of John Does as defendants, and the plaintiffs hope that the legal process will allow them to track the actual people who are harvesting the e-mail addresses, said lead attorney Jon Praed with the Arlington-based Internet Law Group.

Collecting e-mail addresses is not by itself illegal, but Praed said the plaintiffs will be able to link the harvesting to spam e-mails, which are illegal under federal and state laws. Those laws allow individuals who receive unwanted spam to seek civil damages.

Praed said legitimate businesses are afraid to post e-mail addresses on their Web sites for fear that automated Web crawlers will find the addresses, record them and sell them to spammers who will inundate them with junk e-mail.

Praed said the lawsuit will "focus on the worst of the worst," using information that Project Honey Pot has already collected and analyzed.

"We have a lot of data, a lot of clusters that have emerged" from all over the world. The legal discovery process will allow them to track that data to the actual harvesters, he said.

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