I was watching The Simpsons last night.  It’s a show I used to really enjoy when I was younger but as time passed and we exited the 1990’s, the show got a lot more boring.  It’s just not as funny as it used to be. I’m sure all of my readers would agree that it now has funny moments but not funny episodes.  So, it was a surprise to me last night when I actually laughed out loud a few times catching the show last night.

It was titled “The Bob Next Door.”  Sideshow Bob is in prison and by an odd coincidence, his cell mate, who has a similar build to him, is due for early parole.  Sideshow Bob then drugs him with anesthetic, removes both of their faces (in a parody of the movie Face/Off), and impersonates his cell make and gets released.  He then buys the home next to the Simpsons, kidnaps Bart and plans to kill him.  His plot is to take him to the part of the United States where five states meet at on location – the Five Corners.  At Five Corners, Bob explains to Bart that he will fire the gun in one state, have the bullet travel through two others, hit Bart in a fourth state, and let Bart fall and die in the fifth state. The killing would take place in five separate states and would not be prosecutable.  Bart ends up stalling for time until police from each state arrives and captures Bob.

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As I were watching the show, I couldn’t help but think about how this relates to spamming.  If Bob were a spammer, we would register a bunch of phony domains in Russia, package cheap pharmaceuticals in China, use compromised bots in Spain, Australia, the UK and Brazil to send spam, send relay instructions out of Latvia, flood customer’s inboxes in the United States and collect pay checks via Western Union in the Ukraine.  Doing all of this would evade prosecution because none of these activities is illegal in and of themselves.

Except that it’s not true.  I’m pretty sure that every single one of these are illegal in all of these countries.  What is lacking is not jurisdiction but the ability of law enforcement to execute.  It’s difficult to track down spammers when they are using such a wide net to push their products.  Law enforcement in one country has to contact law enforcement in another.  For example, if an FBI agent wanted to catch a spammer in Russia, they’d have to get their police department to send a letter to the Attorney General of the United States to send a letter of request for assistance to the Minister of Justice (or equivalent) in Russia who would then approve it the request and then pass it down to law enforcement in that country.  It’s a long, arduous process and it takes a long time.  It assumes that the spammer will not change jurisdictions and it assumes that law enforcement in that country will actually cooperate.  In the former eastern bloc, this is far from guaranteed.  Depending on the political climate, and depending on how useful it is to the government to have a spammer around (just in case they need them), they may not decide to acquiesce to the FBI’s requests at all.

Thus, the problem of spam prosecution is not just a technological one, but also a human and cultural one.