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FTC Report Assesses 'Bounty' System For Catching Spammers

by Glen Shapiro,, New York

20 September 2004

According to a report released last week by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), six-figure rewards are likely to be the only way to persude the friends and associates of spammers to turn them in to the authorities.

Following the completion of an examination (requested by Congress) into whether a reward or 'bounty' system would prove useful in enforcing the CAN SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2002), the FTC observed that:

"Based on the FTC’s experience in more than 60 cases that targeted spam, the report notes that there are three hurdles for the FTC and other law enforcers in anti-spam investigations: identifying and locating the spammer; developing sufficient evidence to prove the spammer is legally responsible for sending the spam; and obtaining a monetary award."

According to the Commission, if a reward system could be designed so that it would generate information that helps clear those hurdles, it might improve the effectiveness of CAN-SPAM enforcement.

The FTC additionally suggested that "persons most likely to identify a spammer and provide evidence – what it terms “high-value” information – would be “whistleblowers” or “insiders” – personal or business associates of the spammers themselves".

The report compiled by the FTC observed that potential whistleblowers would be likely to weigh the possibility of a reward against a number of opposing considerations: the likelihood of information they submitted actually being used, and whether the use would result in a successful legal proceeding; whether they would lose their own income; whether they would incur personal legal liability for their own part in the scheme; whether they would lose their anonymity; and whether they would become a target of retaliation by the spammer.

With this in mind, it announced that:

“The Commission is unable to establish with any degree of certainty the dollar amount that might be high enough to overcome these countervailing considerations, but believes that reward amounts in the range of $100,000, and in some cases as much as $250,000 are reasonable estimates."

Given that these figures are higher than the rewards offered for information leading to the arrest of high profile terrorists and other criminals, however, the FTC declined to offer an opinion on whether such large rewards were a good idea.

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