Immigration ad inflames Internet users
By Mike Langberg
San Jose Mercury News
	In perhaps the biggest violation yet of
"netiquette," the unofficial code of conduct for
the Internet global computer network, a Phoenix
immigration law firm sent out an unsolicited
advertisement this week to 5,000 user groups and
got back at least 30,000 angry responses.

	That five-alarm outbreak of "flame mail,"
Internet slang for nasty electronic messages,
repeatedly crashed the computers at Internet
Direct, a small Phoenix on-line service used by
the husband-and-wife firm of Canter & Siegel.

	The possibility of ads creeping onto the
Internet, not the politically touchy issue of
immigration, caused the furor -- raising again
the nagging question of commercial use on the
unsupervised network of networks that connects an
estimated 20 million users worldwide.
	Formed 20 years ago by the Defense
Department to link academic researchers and
government agencies, the Internet has grown to
the point where a majority of users are outside
the walls of a university or federal office.
Although the Internet in theory is not intended
for commercial use, many types of commerce are
now widely accepted; companies setting up a
data-base where customers can retrieve product
information, for example, or executives
exchanging business messages.

	Sending out unsolicited advertising such
as Canter & Siegel's pitch, however, is still
beyond the pale, although there are no binding
regulations preventing such conduct.
	"This shows a wanton disregard for what
people have established as acceptable use," said
Brent Helsop, a Mountain View technical writer
who has co-authored "The Instant Internet Guide"
and two related books. "It's like attacking the
president.  You just can't do that."

	Internet Direct immediately suspended
Canter & Siegel's account for violating the
customer service agreement. The lawyers came back
with a threat to sue for $250,000 to recover the
small number of messages from people interested
in their offer.

	"There's nothing illegal about what we
did," insisted Laurence Canter on Wednesday.
	"We did something new," added Martha
Siegel. "We understand when you do something new,
it's controversial. But just because it's
controversial doesn't mean it's wrong."

	This isn't the first time, however, that
Canter and Siegal got into trouble for committing
the Internet equivalent of sending out junk mail.
Siegel said Netcom Online Communication Services
Inc., a San Jose provider of Internet access,
told the couple to stop sending out multiple
postings last month.
Canter & Siegel sent their latest ad Monday night
to just about every Internet "news group,"
electronic bulletin boards on specific subjects
ranging from computer programming to child care.
Many of these news groups have internal policies
banning unsolicited advertising and many
news-group subscribers pay for each message

Specifically, the law firm offered free
information on an upcoming federal lottery that
will award 55,000 "green cards" extending
permanent residency status to immigrants.  "There
is a strict June deadline. The time to start is
now!!," the ad said.
	Users requesting the free information
will receive a six-page brochure describing the
lottery and declaring: "The truth is an attorney
can help increase your odds of winning.  The law
firm of Canter & Siegel is your best lottery

	Internet Direct, a year-old start-up with
only five employees, posted an apology in a few
news groups Tuesday, saying the service did not
condone the law firm's action.

	"They knew what they were doing was not
acceptable," said Jeff Wheelhouse, Internet
Direct's system administrator.  But Siegel said
her firm sought permission and provided a memo
from Internet Direct business manager Bill
Fisher, dated March 22, stating: "We do not
pre-censor information.  We will not stop you
from doing anything unless we believe it to be
illegal.  If we receive reports that actions you
are performing are having deleterious effects
upon our systems and the other users of Internet
Direct, then we will ask you to cease."