Jeremy Jaynes may have the name of a porn star, but he has the heart of a spammer. Jaynes filled his Raleigh, North Carolina home with multiple computers, routers, and some dedicated servers, then started blasting AOL subscribers with spam. He sent 12,197 pieces of spam (complete with falsified headers) on July 16, 2003, then 24,172 on July 19, and then another 19,104 on July 26, all of them hawking a "penny stock picker," a FedEx refund product, or a "history eraser." When police raided his home, they found CDs stuffed with 176 million e-mail address and another 1.3 billion e-mail user names, many of them AOL usernames that had been stolen by a former AOL employee.
Jaynes was charged under Virginia law, since that's where AOL's servers are located. The state has a tough anti-spam law, and multiple courts found Jayne guilty and sentenced him to nine years in prison for "intent to falsify or forge electronics mail transmission information or other routing information in any manner in connection with the transmissions of unsolicited bulk electronic mail." But in a ruling today, the Virginia Supreme Court tossed the conviction and overturned the law. Why? It ran afoul of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and placed an illegal limit on free speech, according to the justices.
The court found that the law was "overbroad." While the state has a legitimate interest in curtailing spam e-mail, the court also noted that the right to anonymous speech is a key part of US free speech law; punishing someone for faking the header information of an e-mail in order to remain anonymous is not, in the court's view, constitutional.
Had the law limited itself to commercial or fraudulent e-mail, it would have been acceptable. Since it did not, the law could have punished, say, an anonymous e-mail pamphleteer who falsified e-mail header info. That means the law "is not narrowly tailored to protect the compelling interests advanced by the Commonwealth," according the court's decision.
State lawyers asked the judges to slap a "limiting construction" on the law that would not overturn it, but would instead limit it to only those cases in which it would be constitutional. The court said no. In words that should bring a tear to the eyes of anyone who has ever railed against "activist judges," the court noted that "a statute cannot be rewritten to bring it within constitutional requirements… Such a task lies within the province of the General Assembly, not the courts."
And with that decision, the law was struck down and Jaynes was free to go.
Here's the confusing bit: as we reported in March of this year, the very same Supreme Court had in fact upheld Jayne's conviction, even when it considered the anonymous speech issue. As the court noted today, however, that decision was "withdrawn by the Court after a petition for rehearing was granted" and the case was considered anew.
Further reading:Read the court's decision [PDF]Posted on