IP address blocking is illegal in California!
IP addresses are widely misunderstood, even by Internet professionals -- otherwise IP address blocking would not be so widely practiced. I don't even fully understand IP addresses myself, and I have been studying them for some time. Here are the characteristics of IP address blocking:
(1) It is often completely ineffective.
(2) Even where it is initially effective, it can often be defeated by stealthy countermeasures such as email forwarding services and anonymous proxies (e.g., www.hidemyass.com).
(3) Collateral damage: It usually results in the unintentional or wanton blockage of a large number of Internet users in addition to the intended blockee.
IP addresses and IP address blocking:
Some IP addresses are "static," i.e., they don't change with time, and others are "dynamic," i.e., they change each time an Internet user logs onto the Internet. Different Internet service providers have different setups. For example, on AmericaOnline, my computer is assigned a different dynamic IP address each time I log on, and this address is used to communicate with an AOL "proxy" server which then sends the recipient a "static" IP address (this address actually changes infrequently) along with my message. So my IP address that the rest of the Internet sees is the AOL proxy's static IP address, even though my computer's local IP address is dynamic. So blocking my IP address blocks a lot of AOL users who share the same AOL proxy. Members of some ISP's use a dynamic IP address to communicate directly with the rest of the Internet, and they are sometimes blocked by blocking a whole range of IP addresses, which of course also blocks a lot of other Internet users. There are about 4.3 billion numbers available on the current IP version 4 (there is also a new IP version 6), which is a small number in terms of the size of the Internet, so I suspect that maybe the only Internet users who have their own unique static IP version 4 addresses for communicating directly with the Internet are those who rent them.
Besides often unintentionally blocking a whole bunch of Internet users, IP address blocking is often ineffective. For example, blocking a single IP address won't work when a dynamic IP address is used for direct communication (also, some "static" IP addresses -- e.g., the IP address of my AOL proxy -- change occasionally). Also, blockage of IP addresses can sometimes be defeated by using "anonymous" proxies, e.g., www.hidemyass.com. I used anonymous proxies to post comments on Panda's Thumb for several months after I was "banned" there -- however, PT found a way to detect anonymous proxies, so they stopped working.
My blog has several articles about IP address blocking in post label groups titled "Internet censorship" in the sidebar of the home and archive pages. Originally there were two post label groups named (1 of 2) and (2 of 2), but I added a third group labeled (new #1). I kept the original names on the first two groups to ensure that old links to those groups would still work.
I have already shown that IP address blocking is illegal in the UK and is contrary to government policy if not illegal elsewhere in Europe -- see here and here. Now I have discovered that IP address blocking is illegal in California too!
IP address blocking is banned by California Penal Section 502
Below are relevant portions of California Penal Code Section 502, "Unauthorized Access To Computers, Computer Systems and Computer Data":
(b) For the purposes of this section, the following terms have the following meanings:(10) "Computer contaminant" means any set of computer instructions that are designed to modify, damage, destroy, record, or transmit information within a computer, computer system, or computer network without the intent or permission of the owner of the information. . They include, but are not limited to, a group of computer instructions commonly called viruses or worms, which are self-replicating or self-propagating and are designed to contaminate other computer programs or computer data, consume computer resources, modify, destroy, record, or transmit data, or in some other fashion usurp the normal operation of the computer, computer system, or computer network.
The sender of information over the Internet is the "owner" of both the information and the IP address attached to the information. The practice of IP address blocking "records" the IP address and "destroys" the information in the message "without the intent or permission of the owner of the information," and "usurp[s] the normal operation of the . . computer network." Software designed to record IP addresses and use them to block messages is thus a "computer contaminant" according to the above definition.
Also, there are these other provisions:
(c) Except as provided in subdivision (h), any person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of a public offense:
- - - - - -(2) Knowingly accesses and without permission takes, copies, or makes use of any data from a computer, computer system, or computer network, or takes or copies any supporting documentation, whether existing or residing internal or external to a computer, computer system, or computer network.
- - - - - - -
(4) Knowingly accesses and without permission adds, alters, damages, deletes, or destroys any data, computer software, or computer programs which reside or exist internal or external to a computer, computer system, or computer network.
- - - - - - - -
(5) Knowingly and without permission disrupts or causes the disruption of computer services or denies or causes the denial of computer services to an authorized user of a computer, computer system, or computer network.
(6) Knowingly and without permission provides or assists in providing a means of accessing a computer, computer system, or computer network in violation of this section.
(7) Knowingly and without permission accesses or causes to be accessed any computer, computer system, or computer network.
(8) Knowingly introduces any computer contaminant into any computer, computer system, or computer network.
(d) (1) Any person who violates any of the provisions of paragraph (1), (2), (4), or (5) of subdivision (c) is punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, or two or three years, or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
IP address blocking misuses IP addresses for something other than their intended purpose. Hence, IP address blocking "disrupts or causes the disruption of computer services or denies or causes the denial of computer services to an authorized user of a computer, computer system, or computer network." For the following reasons that I described above, it is obvious that IP addresses are intended for the purpose of making communications only and not for blocking communications:
(1) Many IP addresses that are received in messages change each time the original sender logs on to the Internet, i.e., they are "dynamic" addresses rather than "static" addresses. Such dynamic IP addresses are either impossible to block or can be blocked only by blocking a whole range of addresses, which of course is going to block a lot of Internet users, not just the intended blockee.
(2) Often, many Internet users share an ISP proxy that has a static IP address or a semi-static IP address that changes infrequently. Hence, blocking such IP addresses is going to block a whole bunch of Internet users and won't block the intended target if his IP address changes.
Well, what about the use of "spam filters" to filter out emails according to certain criteria, e.g., the senders' email addresses, the senders' email address domains, and keywords/phrases? By the above reasoning, isn't that also a violation of California Penal Code Section 502? Technically speaking, yes. However, there are some important differences between email spam filters and IP address blocking:
(1) Unlike spam filters, IP address blocking is often used for the unconstitutional practice of arbitrary censorship of comments submitted for posting on blogs and other websites.
(2) Spam filters do not necessarily automatically delete filtered emails but sometimes just divert them to a spam file (also called "folder") where they must be manually deleted. AOL considers email filtering by means of keywords/phrases to be so unreliable that the AOL spam filter does not offer an automatic deletion option for emails filtered out in this way, even when the keywords/phrases are user-chosen -- emails filtered out in this way are diverted to a spam folder where they must be manually deleted or saved. However, the AOL spam filter does offer an automatic deletion option on emails filtered according to senders, including emails filtered out by domain names (the domain name is the part of the email address after the "@" sign) and emails from senders that are not in special lists. Of course, filtering done by IP address blocking can use spam folders instead of automatic deletion, but IP address blocking is so unreliable and does so much collateral damage that it should not be used at all.
(3) Spam filters can target a particular sender whereas IP address blocking usually unintentionally blocks a whole group of senders who share the same ISP proxy address or range of addresses. However, a spam filter could also block a whole domain of senders.
(4) Email addresses are always visible to Internet users. In contrast, IP addresses are "transparent" -- i.e., they are normally invisible, like glass that you can see through but cannot see -- and are not intended to be seen or used by inept Internet users who are not even aware that IP addresses should not be used for blocking or filtering messages.
At the very least, any blocking or filtering of communications -- if done at all --should be done only at the end-user level. That is supposed to be the policy of the hypocritical Electronic Frontier (Fraud?) Foundation, but an unscrupulous EFF staff attorney, Kevin Bankston ( email@example.com ), threatened to prevent my emails from reaching their EFF addressees.
In other words, in California it is no more legal to block IP addresses than it is to rob mail from the US postal service.
Labels: Internet censorship (new #1)