University of Texas had right to block spam, 5th Circuit rules
AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas didn’t violate the constitutional rights of an online dating service when it blocked thousands of unsolicited e-mails, a federal appeals court panel ruled this week.
White Buffalo Ventures, which operates LonghornSingles.com, had appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying it had complied with all anti-spam laws.
The company argued that the university violated its constitutional rights by filtering out 59,000 e-mails in 2003. White Buffalo also claimed a federal act that allows certain e-mails superseded the university’s anti-spam policy.
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit, ruling Aug. 2 in White Buffalo Ventures v. University of Texas at Austin, said that the federal anti-spam law, CAN-SPAM, does not pre-empt the university’s policy and that the policy is permissible under the First Amendment.
The law requires messages to have a title that correctly states the contents of the e-mail and a valid e-mail address and that companies honor requests to unsubscribe.
The court did not need to rule on whether the state university e-mail servers are public or private.
The Austin-based service had legally obtained the addresses from the university, but the university started blocking the e-mail messages, saying White Buffalo was part of a larger spam problem that had crashed the computer system.
The university said it was also responding to complaints from students and faculty.
At the time, UT issued a cease-and-desist order, but White Buffalo refused to comply. So UT blocked all the e-mail messages from White Buffalo’s IP address.
The court determined that White Buffalo had complied with federal law and that its e-mails were not illegal, but the law applied to UT as it would to an Internet service provider that employs protection measures.