Lawsuit threat against RBL users

Szechuan Death sdeath at
Thu Dec 3 11:46:27 UTC 1998

1)  IANAL.
2)  This is quote, interspersed with rebuttal.
3)  Although it involves no directly technical issues, it is an operational issue
none the less.  If you doubt it, ask yourself this question:  would you rather
spend your time fixing network problems, or monitoring content and appearing in
4)  This post is somewhat lengthy.

David Stoddard wrote:

>         Based on these statements, I can only conlude you have a huge
>         problem with the capitalistic system, and that you favor the
>         elimination of private property in order to foster your "freedom".
>         That is the same argument Fidel Casto uses on the people he
>         suppresses, and was the common theme among communist countries
>         before the fall of the Berlin wall.  Joseph Stalin shared your
>         views on private property.  I don't.  As a capitalist, I find
>         your ideas offensive and misguided.

As a capitalist, here's something you should find even more offensive and
misguided:  Since you've volunteered to monitor content, the government is likely
to require that you do.  Read further.

>         Paul Vixie and his team of "RBL finks" are to be commended on the
>         excellent job they have done in stopping the poisonous assult of
>         pornographic filth, fraud, and manipulation that spam brings to
>         people everyday.  And for people that want to take the RBL even
>         further, we provide a list via autoresponder at spamlist at
>         that blocks even more of this crud.  And here is the best part --
>         its up to the FREEDOM of the individuals that use these resources
>         to determine if and how they want to use them.
>         There are no "inalienable rights and freedoms" that give spammers
>         unrestricted access to the Internet.  Even the courts have upheld
>         the right of ISPs to block and filter spam -- see the URL

Of course they did.  Think about it.  You just volunteered to monitor content for
an industry which the government is busy wringing its hands over.  The intrinsic
difficulty in analyzing packet-switched traffic for violations of the law has
stymied law enforcement agencies ever since the Internet became an issue.  That
doesn't play well on the nightly news, when the blubbering-mother-of-the- week
pisses and moans on TV about how her precious little Johnny got kidnapped,
buggered, and slaughtered by some cretin "on the Internet" who knows how to use
IRC and was able to give her kid a plane ticket while she was busy watching
"Jerry Springer" reruns instead of asking what the hell her kid was doing on the
computer.  "Sorry, it just isn't possible to do anything about it, we don't have
the capability to monitor it" isn't what the general public wants to hear, and
the LEAs and politicians have been tying themselves up in knots over it.

About this time, along comes a Crusade, one which is worthy of legend. On the one
side is Spamford Wallace and his crew of misbegotten miscreants, and on the
other, Paul Vixie and his band of righteous merry men.  (I have chosen Spamford
and Paul as the figureheads for their respective movements, actual history

So Paul decides that, to battle the forces of Spam, he shall create a list of
those who sin against the Internet at large, and propagate it to others.  Both
these points are important.  If Paul wants to play God with his little corner of
the Internet, no problem.  Unfortunately, he's not going to be able to step down
from that position on a whim.  (Ain't that a bitch - Crusaders can't stop
Crusading because their feet get tired or because they're getting shot at.  Aww.)

What does this mean?  The next time something originating from or coming into
Paul's network is deemed offensive, a waste of money/bandwidth/time/etc,
unethical, or any other negative adjective, it will not be the U.S. Government
who is put in the position of regulating it - it will be Paul.  You see, Paul has
assumed the position of "Being On Top Of It".  Even if Paul doesn't feel that
way, even if he feels that regulating that particular content will be detrimental
to the Internet at large, even if he strenuously objects and says that "it's not
his job", he will be put in that position, because _he volunteered for the job_.
Precedent will have been set, and although IANAL, I know enough about the law to
know that precedent is a bitch to break with.  The government and regulatory
agencies will simply allow and "encourage", through the promise of jail time,
copious fines, and multimillion dollar civil lawsuits, "self-policing" of the
Internet by the administrators, all the while wiping the sweat from their brow
and congratulating each other on having dodged another bullet.

In addition, when the system fails - and as I and all other sysadmins know, all
systems fail - it won't be the U.S. Government on the hook for screwing it up.
It'll be you, because _you volunteered for the job_.

Oh yeah.  The other important thing - pick up "Paul" and put down your first
name, because everyone who subscribes to the RBL will be doing exactly the same
thing.  There's a reason that the phone companies are common carriers - it's
because it relieves them of a massive amount of liability.  The telcos do some
things right on occasion, ya know.

This is not to say that I believe that spam is a Good Thing, or that the RBL is a
Bad Thing.  I hate Spamford for what he has wrought, and I believe that the RBL
is a natural and necessary response to it.  I do, however, suspect that the
trouble that Spamford and his ilk have caused, which has long since been dealt
with, is nothing compared to the trouble which has now been assumed by the
sysadmins and network operators.

Congratulations.  The Chinese have a saying about being careful what you wished

>         If you want to use your time and resources to foster and promote
>         the activites of people that prey upon society at large, go right
>         ahead -- that's "freedom", and it is your "right" to do so.  I have
>         always found it interesting that the people the scream the loudest
>         about their rights do it in the context of denying others their
>         rights.  As an ISP, I have the right to choose.  And I choose not
>         to do business with spammers.

I wonder if you'll be so cavalier when the blubbering-mother-of-the-week is busy
suing your arse off for not protection her little kid from:
a)  pedophiles
b)  bomb-making instructions
c)  satanic song lyrics
d)  pork (the other white meat)
e)  Chevrolet
f)  anything else deemed offensive.

Tell me, what would you "choose" to do should one of your customers send back,
stapled to their usage contract, a list of content they find objectionable and
ask you to filter it?  Suppose you can't, don't, or won't?  How about if you
screw it up and some gets through?

Power comes with responsibility.  Responsibility carries with it liability.  Are
you prepared to assume the liability that comes with "choosing" to selectively
block content?

Szechuan Death, AKA Theron Bair, sysadmin, net tech, student, etc.
sdeath at

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