Out of the rat's mouth

Without doubt, spam has caused a global and daunting predicament with no real solution in sight. But it should come as no surprise that there's a sensational Florida muck-up in the mix, as there seems to be in so many no-boundary disasters these days, be it Sept. 11, anthrax or the presidential election.

In this case, we have Eddy Marin of Boca Raton -- the infamous "king of spam" -- waging a balls-out legal showdown against archenemy Steve Linford, famed spam-catcher and head of the London-based, not-for-profit Spamhaus Project.

Their personal battle came to the public fore when London's The Guardian covered the unprecedented legal proceedings in February in a story that opened with the revelation: "Golden beaches, palm tree-lined streets, manicured golf courses and giant motor yachts moored at the marinas: Boca Raton in Florida is a millionaire's paradise. It's also the spam capital of the world." The lawsuit brought against Spamhaus by EMarketersAmerica.org �owned by Mark Felstein, Marin's lawyer -- was filed on behalf of "anonymous senders of Unsolicited Bulk Email."

Indeed, the city named after the Spanish phrase "boca de ratones," meaning "rat's mouth" (a term used by seamen to describe a hidden rock that a ship cable might rub against) is home to 40 of the less than 200 most-prolific spam operations in the world. The most well-known of Boca's spam dispensers is Marin, a convicted cocaine dealer, who brought down a dozen others, including a Broward County judge, when he was nabbed in the early 1990s. More recently, he's been charged with money laundering. Currently, he's reaping financial rewards from Internet porn and spam.

The Miami Herald ran a story that poked fun at the London papers for missing Boca Raton's already bad rep for being the scam capital of the world: "Poor Boca. It's as if infamy has taken up permanent residence. ... Former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Richard Breeden once called Boca 'the only coastal town in Florida where there are more sharks on land than in the water.' ... But now Boca, with help from Eddy Marin, has gone legit. Of course, Marin's mighty spam operations won't exactly enhance Boca's reputation. But at least they're legal."

And there's the rub. Spam is legal in Florida and there's no movement to outlaw it. In fact, Spamhaus believes that the U.S. is on its way to legitimizing spam, via pending federal legislation which could confuse "spam" (bad) with "Unsolicited Bulk Email" (good), even though they are the same thing. Not that making spam illegal would do much to change the way business is done. But legality does open to the door to audacious lawsuits such as the one brought by EMarketersAmerica, which claims that Spamhaus is taking away jobs from Americans.

That there's a connection between spam and crime is a speculation supported by many, including Linford's band of do-gooders, who are out to rid the world of spam evil. Spamhaus devotees see themselves as the diligent Robin Hoods of cyberspace, plotting to outwit the overlords who are counting their gold in their ocean-side manors.

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