Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Filter Ate My Homework?

It had to happen eventually.

The law firm Franklin D. Azar & Associates was ordered to pay attorney's fees for opposing counsel when its lawyers failed to show up for a court appearance May 30. Why'd they miss their day in court?

Pornography was the initial problem. Or rather, the real or spurious offers of pornography that pour in every day to all active e-mail accounts. Enough of it was getting through that some employees of the law firm began complaining.

Of course, this is a familiar problem to most of us. Clever spammers who devote their lives to learning their way around spam filters, even if only 1 percent of their messages get through, are busily working at defeating spam detectors as quickly as programmers can write them. And so, even with a very good spam filter, you're still going to get the occasional e-mail assuring you that "You can make it bigger," or inviting you to collect funds for your dear contact in Nigeria.

Those who understand the technological world understand this ongoing battle. They might perhaps have suggested some ways that employees disturbed by the spam that got through could have filtered or lowered the incidence of spam on their individual computers.

But the partners at Azar & Associates apparently couldn't be bothered to learn these details--they simply insisted that their IT manager "do something." I imagine it as a Kirk-talking-to-Scotty moment: "I don't care how you fix it, just fix it! You have three hours!"

The IT manager fixed it by raising the security levels on the firm's firewall/spam filter. Only one problem: it also blocked the e-mail from the U.S. District Court for Colorado, advising the parties to a lawsuit of their court date. The judge in the case annoyed that he and the other parties had wasted their time, ordered Azar to pay up.

A higher court overturned the ruling, which I think is kind of a shame: the expense of having to pay the other side's attorney fees might have proved a good lesson in why it's important to understand technological issues--instead of just demanding that they disappear.

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