Missouri attorney general sues firm over unsolicited e-mails

Friday, October 22, 2004

Attorney General Jay Nixon is suing a Texas Web site operator who sent "spam" e-mails to Missouri public school superintendents under the guise of an open records request. Instead, the message was a demand for personal information from the superintendents, including their sexual orientation.

According to a Nixon spokesman, StarProse Corp. of Abilene, Texas, said in the e-mail it sent Wednesday that it was compiling a list, and if superintendents did not respond, they would be listed as homosexual by default.

Superintendents from Cape Girardeau and Jackson schools said they received the e-mail but recognized it as spam -- the junk mail of the Internet -- and did not respond. Cape Girardeau superintendent Mark Bowles said he had received a different e-mail earlier in the week from StarProse requesting such personal information as his salary and date of birth. When he saw that he had received another one Wednesday, he deleted it without even reading it, not knowing it contained the query about sexual orientation.

Other superintendents notified the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the attorney general's office after receiving the e-mail. A spokesman for Nixon said he is unaware of anyone actually responding to the e-mail. DESE and the Missouri Association of School Administrators quickly sent e-mail messages to the schools advising them not to respond to messages from StarProse.

Jackson superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson said he recognized that the request from StarProse was asking for information not covered under state and federal guidelines and disregarded it.

"I knew I was not going to respond to something like that," he said. "I knew it had to be something strange."

Nixon filed a lawsuit Thursday in Camden County Circuit Court claiming StarProse violated Missouri's consumer protection laws, specifically the law regarding unsolicited commercial e-mail.

The suit further states that StarProse violated Missouri law by providing false or misleading information in the subject line of the e-mail, using the subject line to induce the superintendents to open the message, and then threatened them by declaring it would list the superintendent as homosexual if they did not reply.

The attorney general is also seeking an injunction barring StarProse from further violations of Missouri's consumer protection laws and asking the court to levy a civil penalty of $5,000 for each violation. A hearing on the temporary restraining order is set for today in Camden County Circuit Court.

Bowles said that if he had opened the e-mail, he probably would not have paid much attention to it, that he would have automatically deleted it as he does so much other spam e-mail he receives.

"I would not have forwarded it on to any legal counsel to be pursued," he said.

Anderson said he's glad, though, that somebody alerted the attorney general.

"Somebody had to deal with this issue," he said.


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