Court forces ORBS to remove Xtra e-mail from blacklist

By MICHAEL FOREMAN

A High Court injunction has forced anti-spam activist Alan Brown to remove Xtra e-mail servers from the Open Relay Behavioural Modification System (ORBS) blacklist.

Mr Brown said a warrant would be issued for his arrest for contempt of court unless he fully complied with the injunction.

But Xtra marketing manager Chris Thompson denied he was attempting to close ORBS down by putting Mr Brown in jail. He said the arrest warrant was a standard tactic used by High Court judges to force defendants to attend hearings.

The interim injunction had been granted last Wednesday before a hearing that took place last Friday. When Mr Brown failed to attend, the hearing was adjourned until next Thursday.

Xtra's owner Telecom, Wellington-based internet service provider Actrix and accounting firm KPMG are jointly suing Mr Brown for unspecified damages resulting from their inclusion on the ORBS database, which is widely used by overseas ISPs, including United States-based giants America Online, USA Net and Bigfoot.com, to selectively block incoming e-mails from suspect servers.

Last Wednesday, an interim injunction ordering the removal of the three companies from the database was granted by the High Court in Palmerston North before Thursday's hearing.

Mr Brown said Xtra's e-mail servers were included in the ORBS database last November after they were identified as "open relays" which could be used to redirect spam e-mails.

Xtra has strongly denied that its servers could be compromised in this way.

Mr Thompson said the plaintiffs had not yet decided whether they would seek damages. However, Xtra wanted to pass messages to ORBS subscribers who "may not be aware that the some listings in the database were unjustified."

But Mr Brown said such action by Telecom could backfire as ISPs could manually block Xtra's servers.

"If [Telecom] starts taking direct action all hell will break loose," he said. "They will start blocking Telecom in their own right as a matter of principle and never remove the block."

Mr Thompson said there was no "philosophical divergence" between Xtra and ORBS.

"We are all as opposed to spam as ORBS is," he said.

"However, [the blocking] shows there was a need for an objective auditor to oversee services like ORBS as they are open to abuse by one individual."

Howick-based Bigfoot.com user Tony Pelham said he was relieved the block had been lifted.

E-mails from Xtra users were now beginning to get through to the Bigfoot account used by his technical support company, PC Win Systems.

"Not only was it annoying but it lost us business, too," he said.

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