August 25, 2004
WASHINGTON - Moving against Internet crime, the Justice Department on Wednesday disrupted a network allegedly used to illegally share copyrighted files and was engaged in a series of arrests against purveyors of e-mail "spam."
In the copyright case, search warrants were executed by the FBI in Texas, New York and Wisconsin targeted at computer servers that allowed users to illegally share music, movies, software and games.
The case marks the first federal criminal copyright action taken against a peer-to-peer, or P2P, network in which users can access files directly from the hard drives of fellow users' computers. The search warrants targeted the operators of the networks, rather than the users, and criminal charges are likely in the near future, according to the FBI.
An FBI affidavit filed in support of one search warrant said that agents used covert computers to infiltrate and obtain copyrighted material from a series of P2P hubs connected to the "Underground Network," including copies of new movies made from legitimate advance screeners' copies. The network, according to the affidavit, has about 7,000 members.
Attorney General John Ashcroft scheduled a news conference later in the day to discuss details of the copyright case.
Meanwhile, the Direct Marketing Association, which has put up $500,000 to help the FBI and Justice Department with the probe, said in a statement that the spam arrests stem from a yearlong investigation intended to "engender greater trust and comfort in legitimate e-mail communications."
Details of "Operation Slam Spam" were expected to be announced Thursday, according to the marketing group and a federal law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Justice Department officials declined to comment.
The investigation involves more than 100 arrests, search warrants and other enforcement actions, such as subpoenas.
Many of the cases involve "phishing," which are e-mails that appear to be from financial institutions and other legitimate businesses but are actually fraudulent. They are used to induce people to provide credit card numbers and other personal information.
Other cases in the crackdown involve pornography and use of spam, or unsolicited e-mails, to infect computers with viruses that can obtain personal data or be used be a hacker to further spread the virus.
Congress last year passed a law making fraudulent and deceptive e-mail practices a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. Industry groups say spam e-mail accounts for almost three-quarters of the e-mail in the United States and costs consumers and businesses as much as $10 billion a year.