LEAVE HOUSTON CITY ATTORNEY DAVID M. FELDMAN ALONE

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85 Responses

  1. Dan K. says:

    I'm very curious what law he would cite to support that sending communications to a government official, advocating for a particular course of government action, is "arguably unlawful."

  2. VPJ says:

    And this post is also arguably harassment…or at least makes you are liable.

  3. Mu says:

    Actually he might be worth his money. He's not going after the citizens with the right to petition but a company that's asking them to do it. That still makes him a pompous ass, but he's swimming in much muddier legal waters.

  4. Dangerboy says:

    I am in love with this post. Which is weird, and I'm going to have a hard time telling my wife. Hopefully it's just infatuation.
    But seriously, f*** that guy.

  5. Jay Lee says:

    Granted, the city's response was a little ham-fisted. But Uber's petition system generated thousands of robo-emails that were sent to city inboxes, flooding them and crashing the server. The city asked Uber to stop that system – not asking people not to communicate in a more organic fashion.

  6. Turk says:

    Query: If I create a bot that sends 100,000 emails per minute on issue x, and that crashes the email system of a public servant, is that still a constitutionally protected petition for redress of grievances?

  7. Matthew Cline says:

    Wait, so for every person who filled out Uber's web form, more than one email message was generated?

  8. Unless there was more than one email per citizen, these arguments about downing the email system are as bad as the original government response.

    "Because so many of you are trying to petition the government, THAT'S why we have to try to pretend you have no right to petition your government."

  9. Turk says:

    Unless there was more than one email per citizen, these arguments about downing the email system are as bad as the original government response.

    My question was a hypothetical, since I don't know if that was happening or not. Obviously, if it is one email per person, this is a non-issue. The Feldman email seems to imply otherwise (though it really isn't clear).

  10. Ken Mencher says:

    Now I want to find this Uber website that makes petitioning so easy and click the button…and I don't even live in Houston…

  11. Bristol Palin says:

    I want to know how this multiple emails per user works. Has it been licensed for use with audience voting on tv shows? I could have a future on DWTS again with the right back end support.

    My mom might be interested in this two.

  12. mcinsand says:

    If someone would send me a plate from Chuy's near Kirby and Westheimer in Houston, I will vote until the green sauce runs out.

  13. Sean says:

    Mcinsand, sounds like a job for the Elvis Presley Memorial Special! +1 for Chuy's!

    As for Houston, is there a law/rule/policy that prevents them from ordering their IT staff to filter and delete any incoming emails with the text of the petition. After all they shouldn't have to work to ignore the little people who don't own limo and taxi companies.

  14. JonasB says:

    1. How many emails were being sent?

    2. What were the specifics of the informal phone conversation?

  15. Roscoe says:

    Doesn't the City of Houston have a tech person? I am a dummy about such things but have still managed to get Outlook to send emails I receive from a group to which I belong (a shared interest in an arcane area of the law) to a separate directory. Why can't they do that here instead of threatening the citizenry?

    BTW, I believe that last time I saw the word "noisome" used was in reference to the Fenachrone.

  16. Aaron says:

    @Bristol Palin
    Won't work. I used to work for a company (really the primary company) that managed & handled the voting for the US reality TV shows. Leaving aside the fact that email generally isn't a valid method of entry, virtually all of them allowed voting multiple times per method of entry. There is, however, protections against fraudulent voting.

  17. Dirkmaster says:

    Dan K

    Probably the same one that cops use to arrest you for capturing a video of them, Interference with intent to cause ButtHurt.

  18. Fred says:

    When I worked for a legislator we filtered based on title. These types of emails typically all have the same title and body, with the only difference being the contact information. One day we received 13,000 emails with the same title (from at least 12 different countries). They all went straight to deleted.

    Maybe they should spend a portion of their budget on basic Microsoft Outlook maintenance.

  19. Brett Middleton says:

    BTW, I believe that last time I saw the word "noisome" used was in reference to the Fenachrone.

    Holy Klono! A deduction worthy of the Norlaminians, youth. The Fenachrone must be using fifth-order forces to bypass the ether wall around the e-mail servers! The only way to escape such tight-beamed harassment before it overwhelms the wall shields would be for Houston to rotate their asshattery through the legal dimension.

  20. Sinij says:

    So Ken is arguing here that it is acceptable to DoS government, because reasons and constitution!

    Why bother with petitions, how about just SYN flood, because clearly it is protected speech.

  21. Minocho says:

    Re: mcinsand

    Chuy's creamy jalepeno dip is the bomb. Now I need to go and buy a tub. And it's all your fault.

  22. Joel says:

    @Rick:

    Obviously everyone has a right to petition their government, but the automated system does raise an important question–one of logistics. An automated emailer can send those thousands of emails en masse, providing a strain on the government's email infrastructure that's not likely to occur if each message was sent by a human being.

    Obviously asking them to stop sending messages altogether is heinous, but if the system as it is currently working is causing technical problems for the government, that's an issue that needs to be addressed. After all if email is broken, they can't adequately respond to citizens even if they wanted to. Granted, this is all hypothetical–I don't know the specifics of what's going on here–but I could see where this situation is arising from a "we need to find an orderly way to do this that human beings can adequately respond to" perspective and not a "we must silence the citizens" perspective.

  23. some guy says:

    It appears that uber is sending a form letter to 25 people at a time every time someone signs the petition, so, they've sent over 250,000 individual emails so far. https://action.uber.org/houston/

    Seems like a piss poor way for uber to get Houston's attention in passing an amendment to an ordinance. Might actually turn off some of the council people towards uber making it actually less likely for the amendment to pass.

  24. dm says:

    Because sending emails until the email server goes down should be illegal! You can't do things like that; interrupting work to protest a point. No sending multiple emails, or standing in a picket line, or sitting at a lunch counter…

  25. Matthew Cline says:

    @some guy:

    It appears that uber is sending a form letter to 25 people at a time every time someone signs the petition, so, they've sent over 250,000 individual emails so far.

    Is the same text being sent 25 times over, or is a single email message being sent which has 25 recipients? If the latter, then it shouldn't be a problem.

  26. some guy says:

    25 times. From the webpage, the form letter

    Dear [Recipient's title] [Recipient's name],

    If Houston is going to be America’s next great global city, we need transportation options to match. We need Uber in Houston. Please—stand up for consumer choice and driver opportunity and make changes to Chapter 46 of the Houston Code of Ordinances without delay.

    Houstonians deserve access to reliable, efficient and affordable transportation alternatives. Houston should not be the last major city to adopt revolutionary technology for its transportation. Stand up for me, not the taxi special interests.

    Update Chapter 46 and bring Uber to Houston for good.

    Sincerely,
    [Your first name] [Your last name] from ZIP code [Zip Code]

    I doubt they are sending a single email to multiple people with the body of message having literally "[Recipient's name]" or "[Your first name]".

  27. Speed says:

    In other news, It will soon be legal to 'willfully annoy' people in Grand Rapids.

    Are you an obnoxious jerk who enjoys deliberately pissing people off? Well, good news: You are now legal in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The city has officially moved to decriminalize annoyingness.

  28. Matthew Cline says:

    @some guy:

    Ah. Well, that might put a strain on their mailserver, if they have low bandwidth and/or the server is on a slow machine. On the other hand, sending the same letter to each of the relevant politicians seems like it would be covered by "redress of grievances" (though IANAL).

  29. delurking says:

    re some guy and Matthew Cline

    That is a distinction without a difference. It is obvious that when a person fills out the form and signs the petition, it generates one email addressed to each council member (and to each of a few other gov't officials). It is entirely reasonable for a citizen to email his/her concerns to each person on that list. The fact that Uber has made this easier does not change the analysis.

  30. Boxers or Case Briefs says:

    This is an interesting one. I have no idea whether the redress of grievances jurisprudence has similar time/place/manner standards as free speech, but I could imagine a reasonable argument against mass e-mail systems that potentially crash the city's e-mail. (Note that I'm not saying this guy MADE that reasonable argument)

    Essentially, can the city put limits on the time, place, and manner in which you petition for redress to the extent necessary to prevent their e-mail system from being crashed?

    Regardless, this post was a fun read.

  31. Ken White says:

    For people suggesting that this is akin to a DDOS, or that the sin of it is that Uber is auto-emailing 25 people per signatory:

    if that's so, why is the City Attorney's cease and desist demand so broad?

  32. PuddinTame says:

    Something to note is that this isn't the first time that Uber has tried to 'ddos' an organization.
    Black Car Competitor Accuses Uber Of DDoS-Style Attack; Uber Admits Tactics Are "Too Aggressive"

    In case the link doesn't come through, or if you don't want to read, basically Uber used their staff to 'book' hundreds of their ride share competitors' cars, and then almost immediately cancelled the booking. However, once the booking had taken place, they now had the contact information for the competition's drivers, whom they quickly forwarded job offers to. So not only did they disrupt the competition service (by quickly taking many of their cars temporarily offline), they also attempted to snipe their talent.

  33. Matthew Cline says:

    @Ken:

    For people suggesting that this is akin to a DDOS, or that the sin of it is that Uber is auto-emailing 25 people per signatory:

    if that's so, why is the City Attorney's cease and desist demand so broad?

    To play devil's advocate: simple technological illiteracy. In this hypothetical, the city's tech people were complaining about their mail server being overloaded, and David M. Feldman interpreted it as "email BAD".

  34. Jacob Schmidt says:

    For people suggesting that this is akin to a DDOS, or that the sin of it is that Uber is auto-emailing 25 people per signatory:

    if that's so, why is the City Attorney's cease and desist demand so broad?

    That's a silly question. In response to assertions of similarities to DDOS or the wrongness of spam, you ask about the attorney's motivations.

    I don't know what those motivations are, but it has little to do with whether it's acceptable to overload a system with spam.

  35. some guy says:

    Having run an email system quite a while ago I wouldn't quite classify this as a DOS attack but not knowing their email infrastructure I wouldn't go so far to say that it is not an issue.

  36. Major says:

    As a former Congressional staffer I can attest that this sort of system to generate multiple form emails to all proper recipients is absolutely commonplace–it is an ordinary form for citizens' petition rights to take and in no way resembles a DDOS. My only question is why there is not a 1983 claim here–any thoughts Ken?

  37. DonaldB says:

    I loved the "Super Lawyers" link.

    I thought that vanity list publications only worked with occupations that had less experience with marketing, and then only for the first time or two.

    Once you figure out it's not an honor, but a sucker list (which really should occur to you before you reach the signature line filling out the check), why would you ever mention it again?

  38. Joel says:

    @Ken: I agree, the statement, as written, isn't good. If he meant it the way you interpret it, it's a pretty gross dismissal of a foundational piece of our government, and if he meant it the way some of us are generously interpreting, he does a poor job of communicating his point. Neither are what you want from an official communication from a city attorney. I'm not going to pass judgement one way or the other without more information, though, because there's not much to be gained by running wild with accusations of civil repression without proof.

  39. sticky-fingered dawdler says:

    I have a new description now. I used to be a Slack-Jawed Gawker according to Mr. Burns, but now I've changed.

  40. Matthew Cline says:

    Jacob Schmidt:@

    That's a silly question. In response to assertions of similarities to DDOS or the wrongness of spam, you ask about the attorney's motivations.

    Even if it has such resemblances, it's a form of redress of grievances, and the government should just suck it up. Unless you mean that people who are emailing grievances to the government should just pick one or two people as recipients, rather than sending their message to all relevant politicians.

  41. Ed T. says:

    What would be amusing is if the mail server crashes weren't due to Uber sending emails to City Council (+ other city officials), but rather said City personnel DDoSing their own mail system with "Reply to All"s reading "QUIT SENDING THIS!!!1" and "TAKE ME OFF THIS MAILING LIST!!!1" and "QUIT USING 'REPLY TO ALL' DAMMIT!!!!1" and "I AM SO BUTTHURT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1"

    ~EdT.

  42. ketchup says:

    Joel,

    @Ken: I agree, the statement, as written, isn't good. If he meant it the way you interpret it, it's a pretty gross dismissal of a foundational piece of our government, and if he meant it the way some of us are generously interpreting, he does a poor job of communicating his point. Neither are what you want from an official communication from a city attorney. I'm not going to pass judgement one way or the other without more information, though, because there's not much to be gained by running wild with accusations of civil repression without proof.

    Why don't you email Mr. Feldman and ask him which he meant?

  43. Warren Vita says:

    "…appropriate action by the City." You mean like setting up a filter to drop all the emails from Uber's webform? I don't see much difference between this and encouraging people to call and complain, which can jam up the phone lines for awhile but certainly isn't illegal.

  44. ketchup says:

    Dear Mr. Feldman,
    The folks over at Popehat have been debating whether you are a) ignorant of the US and Texas constitutions b) a poor legal communicator or c) both a) and b). Could you please let us know straight from the source so we can make fun of you for the proper reason(s)?
    Thank you,
    A Popehat Forum member.

  45. mcinsand says:

    @Minocho

    >>Chuy's creamy jalepeno dip is the bomb. Now I need to go and buy
    >>a tub. And it's all your fault.

    Yes, it's awesome as it is ugly looking, but you won't get any sympathy from me! You being able to go out and buy a tub just rubs in the fact that I can't. It's been way too long since I've been to Houston!

    @Sean,

    I take it the altar to Elvis is still there, then? Also, what about the painted wooden fish hanging from the ceiling?

  46. CJColucci says:

    $350,000! To be City Attorney of Houston? His NYC counterpart makes $205,180, which is a good bit more than I would have guessed before I looked it up. I suppose Texas doesn't really object to Big Gummint as long as the right sort of folks profit from it.

  47. Turk says:

    For people suggesting that this is akin to a DDOS, or that the sin of it is that Uber is auto-emailing 25 people per signatory:

    if that's so, why is the City Attorney's cease and desist demand so broad?

    Ken:

    I think many folks are less interested in this particular case than with the broader question of:

    Does the right to petition the government for redress of grievances have a limit of some kind if the form of the petition impairs the ability of the gov't to function?

    If someone has the technology to send 10 spams per minute to a public official, or 10K per minute, or 10M per minute, is that constitutionally protected?

    This is, of course, a classic slippery slope argument.

  48. Levi says:

    I'm not an expert on mail servers, but I think the question of there being a distinction between one email sent to 25 recipients and 25 emails sent to one recipient is fairly irrelevant. The latter method would require more bandwidth coming into the mail server (hence the recommendation that data be sent only once to recipients at the same destination host), but the mail server's file system would still reproduce a copy of the multiple recipient email in each recipient's mailbox/directory. Unless there are attachments in the email (embedded image links would take little space, for example), the bandwidth for 250,000 emails cannot be much worse than the porn the city employees were probably streaming at the time.

  49. AlphaCentauri says:

    This is no different than CapWiz, the service that forwards emails to federal legislators. Unless individuals are filling out the Uber form more than once, it's not a denial of service attack (since the true purpose is to get a large volume of emails received, not to get any of them dropped because the server crashed). And it certainly isn't a "DDoS" (distributed denial of service attack) because it's all coming from one source, which they could block if they were really in danger of crashing their server.

    Given the amount of spam email that normally has to be managed by any published email account, I suspect there hasn't been any problem with servers crashing, just annoyance that this might be the citizen camel's nose under the tent of government participation.

  50. albert says:

    I get ~25 spam emails a day, and I'm not a public figure, don't do any 'social' media, and don't belong to any groups. They go to spam, that's it.

    I suspect that auto-deleting of citizens emails might be problematic for the city, whereas a spam box would be OK. When one signs an online petition, one should assume that it will be emailed to the appropriate parties. When email traffic becomes significant, one might then assume that some notice has been taken, and some action might be indicated, regarding the email request.

    Wait, I might have been day-dreaming a bit there….

    There are simple ways to deal with unwanted emails. Any IT person with two, or more, brain cells connected together should be able to handle it.

    It appears that Feldman takes his "Texas Super Lawyer" title very seriously.

    Does anyone know if the City Council even considered this?

    Was there a public hearing?

    Is Feldman simply saving them the trouble?

    Does the taxi/limo lobby have a hold on someone?

    Inquiring minds want more data!

    We've seen this sort of thing time and time again, lighting the fuse while the rammer's still in the barrel. OK, it's not a good metaphor.

    I gotta go…

  51. DonaldB says:

    Thanks for the Section 1983 note. It does appear to be directly on point here. 'Limited immunity' has become 'almost complete immunity', but if there is a line at all, Feldman has crossed it.

    I don't see how it would be legal or proper for the city to selectively delete email of this sort. But a simple approach would be to count (and perhaps immediately discard) such email, and make the summary count part of a daily or weekly summary report.

  52. cpast says:

    Clearly, the city's mail server can receive a high volume of emails, because it obviously functions OK dealing with spam. If the city keeps getting flooded with emails saying the exact same thing, it doesn't seem like it'd be unreasonable to just set the spam filter to flag them, or maybe, if it's possible, have a special bounce message set for those emails (not sure if this is possible, but it seems like it could be done server-side). (I guess the corresponding idea for people tying up the phone lines would be to have all inbound calls go to voicemail).

    @DonaldB: I think it would be proper for massive quantities of identical emails to be simply deleted. Once it passes a certain point, the number stops mattering – they get that lots of people want this, and as petitions are not referendums, the exact number isn't actually that relevant. I certainly don't see how it'd be illegal for them to delete the emails – the right to petition the government doesn't obligate them to individually consider every email. They've already processed that this is a large group, but just like they don't count exactly how many people are at a protest, I don't see why they need to count exactly how many people send them emails)

  53. Darryl says:

    Someone should send the City an open records request for all communications between citizens and the City regarding this issue. See exactly how many emails we are talking about here.

  54. Darryl says:

    I don't think it would be proper to delete anything from the City's servers–I think a claim could be made that it was a violation of Texas law to destroy it. Hmmm, maybe someone should email the City and request all that public information and the emails from citizens. See pages 16-17 and 63-64 (regarding destruction of information) of this handbook: https://www.oag.state.tx.us/AG_Publications/pdfs/publicinfo_hb.pdf

  55. some guy says:

    @levi

    With 25 separate emails that means that 25 rather than 1 needs to be scanned for malicious content (spam, virus). Virus scanning should be fast since there are no attachements, unless uber was dumb enough to send it as html email, in which case the email will be broken up into its constituent MIME parts so each one can be checked in case someone was trying to sneak in stuff with the MIME type set fraudulently trying to bypass filtering. Spam check should be quick in either case. It would be 25 times more processing time than a single email to 25 recipients.

    Looking at the MX records for the city and the IP ownership (arin.net) it appears that is all being handled by the city's servers rather than by someone like mxlogic. But then they could have appliances handling those chores rather than the main mail server which would affect inbound mail primarily and potentially outbound mail depending on the config.

    tldr; yes there is a difference beyond bandwidth and storage between sending 25 emails and 1 email to 25 people.

    I'm guessing that whatever the city is using is probably undersized for uber's email campaign or Feldman got sick of getting the same email for the 1000th time. He is on that list on uber's petition page. Should he have been? Does he actually have any real influence on ordinances passed beyond adviser on Texas laws? Should he have just quietly marked uber email as spam?

    Also it should be 24 emails, the 25th is being sent to an engineer at uber. Initially I was wondering why an engineer, "Mike McClay eng", was included on the petition list.

  56. D1ll says:

    "For people suggesting that this is akin to a DDOS, or that the sin of it is that Uber is auto-emailing 25 people per signatory: if that's so, why is the City Attorney's cease and desist demand so broad?"

    If I had to guess, I would suggest he's a busy guy with a heavy case load and lot of attorneys and other employees to oversee. He's also probably annoyed that these emails are inhibiting his ability to deal with other matters. And he's probably getting a shitload of emails from the other 24 people similarly annoyed. It seems to me a likely result is that he fires off an overbroad letter.

    FWIW, I think this is the first time I've disagreed with you, Ken. I've been reading for at least 2 years, so your record is still sterling.

    Full disclosure: I've worked for elected officials, and dealt with constituent relations. We had separate accounts for the public to use, precisely because of these automated spambots. The sheer volume of output from these bots makes them completely unpersuasive any way. If you want to voice your opinion, you're much better served to call your official's staff, or write a brief letter and snail-mail it.

  57. Fasolt says:

    Well, I guess you could say Uber went a little, (wait for it),

    Uberboard.

  58. EPWJ says:

    I believe Texas Statutes require that all contact be from a primary source in other words proxies are not allowed.

    But it would have been nice if mr high paid actually put an ordinance or statute for a reason other than his own letterhead..

    just sayin

  59. Anonymous says:

    Just curious, but where is the line between free speech and email denial of service, exactly? How many emails can I send and how long can they be?

  60. Jacob Schmidt says:

    Matthew Cline

    Even if it has such resemblances, it's a form of redress of grievances, and the government should just suck it up.[1] Unless you mean that people who are emailing grievances to the government should just pick one or two people as recipients, rather than sending their message to all relevant politicians.[2]

    1) This simply does not follow; not all forms of attempted redress are acceptable.

    2) This is a silly false dichotomy. There is middle ground between "Crash their email service" and "Only 1 or 2 recipients."

    Now, as far as I can tell, this is not similar to a DDOS attack. Rather than a set few spamming to overload a system, a large group are using the system as intended, and the system simply can't handle it. It's unfortunate, as I'm sure this is something of a hassle for city officials, but neither unlawful nor unethical.

  61. Sinij says:

    I don't think cease and desist anywhere near appropriate or proportionate, but two wrongs don't make one right.

    I don't think that automated spam should be any more protected speech than "enlarge your penis" is. I also don't think it is possible to draw exact technological line between speech and abuse of automation afforded to us by technology. Clearly SYN flooding would be abuse, and delivering single hand-written petition would not be. Anything in-between is less clear.

    I think as with any communications the test should be "does it drown out all other communication". If it does, your actions could be blocking other speech. Hypothetically, If I try to email to my politician and Uber brought their email servers down with flood spam, wouldn't it impede my rights? Now, should Uber be responsible for some government shitty email server from god-forgotten IT department run on a shoestring budget?

    This isn't as clear-cut as Ken's original post suggests.

  62. En Passant says:

    VPJ wrote Mar 4, 2014 @8:17 am:

    And this post is also arguably harassment…or at least makes you are liable.

    Furrfu! Stay a way for a day and the place jumps into a handbasket to perdition. How many times does someone have to spell the proper Popehat form: YOU ARE LIBEL!

    That said, the problem of spammy[1] email flooding the city's servers is much more easily addressed by the city's system admins than the city's lawyer.

    Just configure the city SMTP servers to drop connections from the offending domain(s) immediately after HELO. Problem solved. If the spammy domain(s) want to pretend they're not spamming or DDOSing, they can sue the city.

    For public relations, post a simple message on the city website, to the effect that

    An email service using domain.com, that claims to send constituent comments to our city council members has flooded our servers with thousands of identical emails. While these may represent actual views of council members constituents, the messages are identical, and many of them appear to be repeated identical emails from the same constituents.

    Our council members accept constituent emails from constituent's own email accounts which council members can reply to. But they do not accept repeated identical emails from domain.com, to which they cannot reply and reach the actual sender.

    FN 1: I think the problem the attorney describes is more like spam or DDOS than some seem to believe. I also think that a government entity blocking email floods from a particular problematic domain is a violation of anybody's free speech.[2]

    FN 2: The first rule of spam is that spammers always lie. The second rule is they always say they aren't spamming. Inevitably they claim that blocking voluminous emails from them is a violation of their free speech rights. These jerks are spammers.

  63. En Passant says:

    Uh, make that "I also think that a government entity blocking email floods from a particular problematic domain is not a violation of anybody's free speech."

  64. MCB says:

    IANAL, oh wait, that's not true. Anyway this isn't legal advice but:

    I'd say that "arguably unlawful" in a demand letter translates to "lawful."

  65. Yon Anony Mouse says:

    Yeah, how dare thousands of people complain about what their government is doing? Don't they know these people are their betters?

  66. David Lang says:

    If their mail server can't handle 250K e-mails, there is something seriously wrong (like, they may be using microsoft exchange :-)

    for any halfway comptent mail server, 250K messages is peanuts.

    my home system (on a slowish DSL line) could handle somewhere between 30 and 300 messages/sec (depending on how large they are, plain text towards the higher end)

    so, let's say these are largish e-mails, say 10K per e-mail, 250K e-mails will eat up ~3GB of disk space (costing up to $30 worth of disk space if they use platinum-plated high-end storage, ~$0.03 for my home system) and would tie up my network for about 8 hours if they all arrived at once.

    now, if I am dealing with them. I could find them all and copy them to a subfolder (so they are archived, and I can count them, weed out duplicate senders, etc) in about 10 minutes. someone using Outlook and moving them one at a time would take days, but using Outlook and writing a rule to select them and move them, it would possibly take an hour or so.

    no way does this count as a DDOS against anyone competent (besides which, the first D stands for "distributed", if the e-mail is all beign sent by Uber's servers, it's not distributed)

  67. kaikilios says:

    @En Passant, Sinij, and anyone above who argued that Uber is engaging in spamming, or "spammy behavior" (whatever that means).

    Many are arguing that Uber is using an automated system; this is simply not the case. Let me read you the entry on "automatic" in the Oxford English Dictionary:

    automatic, adjective, (of a device or process) working by itself with little or no direct human control.

    Now is this truly the case here? Is any email being sent behind which there is no actual, physical human being who authorizes its sending? If that were true, I'd love to see proof.

    But surely one can spam without an automated system. But how, in this case? What is it specifically that qualifies these petitions as spamming? Besides the "automated" argument which is a lie, what other argument has been offered by detractors or could have been offered?

    The first argument is that these emails are pre-composed, not individually written by the specific petitioner. This argument has a little appeal, but ultimately it is deeply problematic. Does speech lose protection if other people wrote it? If so, then politicians would surely be screwed; many of them hire writers for their speeches. Not that this is not an admirable end, but it would have other, undesirable consequences. Or is it the number of people for which the speech has been composed? Again, this seems problematic. The Constitution was composed for all Americans. Does it mean that it loses its protection under itself? Does it mean that if enough people gather up and read the Constitution, the government has a right to ban them?

    The second argument lies in all emails being sent from a specific domain. While this fits spammers' modus operandi, it is still no good. If thousands of people using Gmail decides to petition the government, does that mean gmail.com is a "spammy" domain and deserves to be blocked? One may argue that the Uber emails are pre-composed and all address one, not many, issues, but this would fall under the previous argument.

    The third argument is that these emails are taxing on the government's servers. While this might well be true, it would logically compel the government to adopt devices which can accomodate the requests, not the citizenry to abandon making these requests. If the government decides to shut down its web servers and bar anyone from making a petition by any means, is it their obligation to reopen these venues for petitions, or is it our obligation to stop making such petitions? But obviously this would not hold true if the emails are not actually petitions, but simply malicious requests designed for attacking and bringing down the governmental infrastructure. Is this actually the case here? Does anyone dare to argue that every, or even most of the users who sent an email via the Uber interface meant primarily to attack and to bring down the email service of the Houston government, and not to petition it for something they believe in? I would certainly hope not. And so the tired screams of "THIS IS SPAM!" can hopefully recede, at least for now.

  68. Aaron Spink says:

    Anyone saying that this is in any shape or form a DoS attack is smoking something. If 250k simple mail messages can DoS a mail service for a major city, then the problem isn't the mail messages, but city incompetence. And even against incompetence this cannot be considered a DoS.

    There are multiple ways for the individual users to handle the streams of email that would take their IT people (assuming that they are at all competent) about 1 minute to do.

    In short this seems like an annoyed technically illiterate city attorney that is just acting out with the legal equivalent of a baseless threat. There is no justifiable legal reason for the letter from the city attorney except he's being paid off by the taxi/limo lobby.

  69. G says:

    Cue sad quiet music

    Announcer: "You know, there is a place where e-mail doesn't work, Where a respected city attorney cannot receive important email because the system is simply overloaded. Where children go without email on a daily basis. No, this isn't Africa, this is right here in America. For only 13 cents a day you can make a difference, you can bring email to Houston. Please donate to Save the Email"

  70. Ryan says:

    @CJColucci

    $350,000! To be City Attorney of Houston? His NYC counterpart makes $205,180, which is a good bit more than I would have guessed before I looked it up. I suppose Texas doesn't really object to Big Gummint as long as the right sort of folks profit from it.

    Glad I'm not the only one astounded by that figure. The top rate for the very highest paid Crown lawyers employed by my countries' federal government is $219 552, which is a very small proportion of overall lawyers. Your typical Crown prosecutor tops out currently at $98 936.

    Interesting that a *municipality* in Texas feels that kind of pay rate for legal counsel is appropriate. Especially to send C&D letters like that. Yikes.

  71. ZarroTsu says:

    Boy, I wish I could afford going golfing every weekend. Instead, here I am paying taxes. I'm such a noob.

  72. MrSpkr says:

    PuddinTame said

    Uber used their staff to 'book' hundreds of their ride share competitors' cars, and then almost immediately cancelled the booking. However, once the booking had taken place, they now had the contact information for the competition's drivers, whom they quickly forwarded job offers to. So not only did they disrupt the competition service (by quickly taking many of their cars temporarily offline), they also attempted to snipe their talent.

    I'm a fan of Uber (much prefer them to traditional taxicabs), but this just seems stupid. Depending upon the jurisdiction, this is arguably a prima facie case of tortious interference with business relations.

  73. En Passant says:

    kaikilios wrote Mar 5, 2014 @2:34 am:

    But surely one can spam without an automated system. But how, in this case? What is it specifically that qualifies these petitions as spamming? Besides the "automated" argument which is a lie, what other argument has been offered by detractors or could have been offered?

    As a commonly accepted technical definition, spam is Unsolicited Commercial Email. Even one UCE is spam.

    So these emails are technically not spam. That is why I called them "spammy", spam-like. One obsessive compulsive idiot can send spam or even just "spammy" email from his own domain, just by pressing "send" and transmitting the same inane message repetitively.

    Sending repetitive near identical emails to politicians is almost as idiotic as the city attorney claiming "arguable" authority to prosecute. Sending repetitive emails to a politician without including a working "from" or "reply to" address for the actual person sending the email is an excellent way to undermine whatever points you are trying to persuade the politician.

    I wouldn't fault any politician or official for blocking a domain which sent nothing but such emails. I doubt any courts would either. And I distrust politicians and courts immensely.

  74. John says:

    The City Attorney should be more upset with the city's IT department for not knowing how to set up an e-mail filter. If it's a single form letter, it should be insanely easy to dump them in a separate folder (or auto-delete). I guess it's more fun to go with vague legal threats.

  75. Cecil says:

    I have been employed by two different federal departments. I have been both civil servant and contractor. I have over 20 years experience. For one we had over 350,000 users and the other is over 300,000 users. 250,000 emails consisting of text in an unknown period longer than a day is nothing. For either department, that's less than one email per user… Sorry folks, gmail gives users 10gb storage each and they aren't even taxpayer funded. Houston needs to just suck it up and if it bothers the individuals, they can filter their own email in accordance with their own philosophy.

  76. WDS says:

    I would think the point is that if there have been 250,000 emails, it means that 10,000 of their citizens want them to do something, and care about it enough to take at least some minimal action.

  77. Sinij says:

    Now is this truly the case here? Is any email being sent behind which there is no actual, physical human being who authorizes its sending? If that were true, I'd love to see proof.

    How about you establish that one button click = 1 physical human being?

    For example, what would stop someone from writing a script to fill forums with randomly-generated or yellow-pages scraped names and addresses and have it click that button?

    What about just an abusive non-constituent from sitting there and pressing the button?

    In order to show that this is lawful behavior Uber will have to show with high degree of certainty that they are facilitating communication between officials and constituents.

    At the same time there is plenty evidence that they are spamming.

    If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck…

  78. Patrick Maupin says:

    @EPWJ:

    "I believe Texas Statutes require that all contact be from a primary source in other words proxies are not allowed."

    Well, then, they had just better unplug them thar new-fangled email computators, then, hadn't they?

    Either that, or be consistent. Why are they giving google, yahoo, and Microsoft a pass on their email systems?

  79. Patrick Maupin says:

    @Sinij:

    In order to show that this is lawful behavior Uber will have to show with high degree of certainty that they are facilitating communication between officials and constituents.

    Cite?

    > At the same time there is plenty evidence that they are spamming.

    Umm, no, there's not. You see, much as I'd love to be able to tell the Republocratic party to STOP PHONING ME or STOP EMAILING ME, they have gone out of their way to insure that political messages are never subject to any sort of preemptive filter.

  80. WDS says:

    @Sinij

    In order to show that this is lawful behavior Uber will have to show with high degree of certainty that they are facilitating communication between officials and constituents.

    And here I was still believing the government had to prove unlawful behavior rather than someone having to show it is lawful.

  81. Anony says:

    I suppose Texas doesn't really object to Big Gummint as long as the right sort of folks profit from it.

    Democrats? In Texas?

  82. Allen says:

    Is hearsay defamatory?

    "Houston? Smallest big city I've ever seen but the local pols do love their coin."

  83. TMLutas says:

    And let's play name that party. Since nobody seems to have mentioned it, I believe that this guy's on the Democrat side of the fence.

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