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These stories first were published Thursday, Oct. 25, 2001
E-mailers still complain
the world blocks RACSA

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Costa Rican computer users continue to face blocks from Internet servers elsewhere in the world because the government Internet monopoly has been identified as being friendly to unsolicited e-mail senders.

Such unsolicited messages are called "spam" in Internet parlance.

Meanwhile, Amnet, the television cable company that also handles Internet connections, said it has 


Annoying but legal: click here

disconnected three or four bulk e-mailers this week and another one Wednesday.

One big Asian Internet provider explained via e-mail Wednesday why the company was rejecting messages that originated with RACSA:

"Racsa has been hosting a lot of spammers — including several rather unsavory spammers touting casino and gambling spam," said a technician with Outblaze Limited (www.outblaze.com). The firm is a major provider in 
Hong Kong, mainland China and Korea and boasts that it manages 30 million e-mail addresses.

In a message to a reader, the same company said that Radiografica Costarricense, S.A. (RACSA) "is blocked in an antispam blacklist called SPEWS (www.spews.org) for hosting spammers, despite repeated e-mails sent to their domain postmaster."

Sending unsolicited e-mails is not illegal, but Internet users and technicians usually frown on the practice. The standard contract with RACSA contains a clause (6-H) in which the customer agrees not to send simultaneous e-mails that will affect the normal operation of the service and not to send unsolicited e-mails. RACSA reserves the right to suspend service without notice for such infractions.

Amnet, the cable company, has a similar clause (7-15). It was Julio Segura there Wednesday who said the company had disconnected customers for unsolicited mailings. However, he said he was bound by privacy rules not to discuss individual cases.  He is head of the company’s technical department.

RACSA, a government agency under the Costa Rican Electrical Institute, holds a legal monopoly to offer Internet services. Amnet contracts with RACSA to connect clients to the main computer using Amnet’s television cable lines. But event messages carrying an Amnet return computer address can be traced as being generated by RACSA (www.racsa.co.cr).

Bulk mailers prefer cable connections to other, slower systems offered by RACSA.

Complaints about RACSA go back about as long as Internet users were concerned about unsolicited messages — to about 1996. RACSA has been on a black list in the past. More recently, unsolicited messages for an Escazú location and a San Pedro location captured the attention of those who maintain e-mail servers elsewhere. 

On Oct. 3 RACSA was put on a black list at the Spamhaus Project (www.spamhaus.com) for complicity in sending multiple messages "Get your own NEW BMW almost for FREE!" The linked Web page in that message was financialfreedomadviser.com, which appeared to be out of service Wednesday.

Two days later www.casinoseuropacardclub.com was cited for promoting a poker championship at the Radisson Hotel’s Europa Casino in San José. The week-long event is real, and not just a gambling activity in cyberspace as so many are. 

Still, a blocking suggestion was issued.

Internet users here started to have messages refused from a variety of Internet servers since that time. However, more became aware of the blocking problem after a story in A.M. Costa Rica Monday.

Because RACSA maintains a monopoly here, if more major Internet providers follow up on the blocking suggestions, Costa Rica could be isolated from world commerce with the exception of those few companies that pay RACSA to allow them to maintain an expensive satellite relay Internet system.

A.M. Costa Rica photo
A sign at the College of Journalists building continues to note the days the the murder of Parmenio Medina has been unsolved. Action in the legislature may be his memorial.

Press law committee
votes to remove 'insult'

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A legislative committee voted Tuesday to eliminate the crime of insult from the country’s penal code.

Insult, or "desacato" in Spanish, is considered a major obstacle to freedom of the press in Costa Rica because a writer can go to jail for reporting what a high public official considers to be insulting.

The crime, within Article 307 of the nation’s legal code, provides up to two years of imprisonment for someone who offends the honor of a public official. 

A reporter for La Nación is facing jail because he has been convicted of insulting a person who was serving as an honorary consul of Costa Rica in Europe.  The insult was in repeating allegations from the European press that later proved to be incorrect. The case is under appeal. 

Five members of the Commission on Liberty of the Press, all who were there, voted to remove insult from the penal code in a report they will deliver to the National Assembly. The commission was empanelled soon after gunmen killed controversial radio journalist Parmenio Medina more than three months ago. The group contains members of various political parties.

One reason the commission voted the way it did, according to statements by some members, is because the insult law discriminates against private citizens. Only public officials can avail themselves of the remedies in the law.

"They decided that the public officials do not have an honor secondary to that of a citizen in a private action," Daniel Gallardo, commission president, said of the panel.

The decision by the commission is the first the group has taken. It has spent the last three months hearing presentations from various members of the press.

Journalists also want the commission to ask the full legislature to pass measures that would:

— allow journalists to protect their sources of information, so-called professional secrets.

— allow journalists to decline to write material that they find to be against their conscience.
 

Assistant to top judge charged with helping suspects leave country
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An assistant to a chief judge in Costa Rica’s judicial system faces charges that he sold permissions to let criminals flee the country before their cases were resolved.

The man, identified by the last name of Acuña, has been under investigation by the Judicial Investigating Organization for three months, police said. 

Police said they had three cases in which the official forged the signature of the judge and FAXed the required documents from the criminal courts to the Immigration Directorate so the person named could leave the country.

Investigators would not say if this case is linked to that of two Italian surfers who were grabbed with what police said was several kilograms of cocaine hidden in their surfboards at Juan Santamaría Airport last month.

The case became an embarrassment for the judicial system because the two suspects were able to leave the country before their case could be tried, and officials were hard-pressed to explain how this could happen.
 

When asked specifically about the case of the Italians Wednesday, investigators declined comment and only said in general that the case still is under investigation.

Acuña has 20 years of service in the judicial branch, police said. 

Tuesday immigration officials contacted investigators to say that another judicial exit permit had been FAXed from the courts. This one involved a Cuban suspected of credit card fraud, they said.

Investigators followed the judicial official as he went to Plaza Mayor in Rohrmoser and met with the Cuban suspect who was not named. The judicial official was arrested later than night. He faces charges of falsification of documents, forgery of a judge’s signature and issuing a false document.

Investigators claim that the judicial employee was charging an amount less than 300,000 colons ($890) for the exit permit. The anti-frauds section of the Judicial Investigating Organization carried out the arrest. 

When arrested in Costa Rica, the departure of a foreigner is embargoed by law until the case is resolved. The judicial exit permits falsely stated that the cases had been resolved, investigators said.

The annoying problem of unsolicited e-mails is not a crime
By Jay Brodell
editor of A.M. Costa Rica

Unsolicited e-mail messages are annoying but they are legal in most jurisdictions. 

And they can be protected freedom of speech.

Sometimes they are a legitimate business practice. When editors launched A.M. Costa Rica, they sent unsolicited e-mails to several hundred computer addresses mentioning that the site had been put up on the server.

Technically, this is spam or unsolicited e-mails.

The type that irks many computer types, however, are the bulk mailings of hundreds of thousands of the same messages. Often the recipient is upset with the content of the message, which may be an invitation to a porno Web site or a get-rich-quick scheme.

Those who oppose unsolicited messages have a number of sites on the Internet, including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (www.cauce.org).

Other sites, such as http://www.spews.org and the Spamhaus Project (www.spamhaus.org), keep track of those who send bulk e-mails and the computers servers that help them do so.

That’s where Radiografica Costarricense, S.A. (RACSA) ended up on a blacklist. Spamhaus issued a blocking suggesting Oct. 5 at about 4 a.m. Costa Rican time. And it did so, in part, because the Casino Europa at the Radisson Hotel was promoting its poker week, an event that by all accounts has brought in participants from all over the world. 
 

The e-mails sent by the casino directed poker players to www.casinoseuropacardclub.com where they could sign up for the competition with a $100,000 top prize. The event ends Friday. 

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the anthrax terrorism against the U.S. Postal Service might encourage direct marketing companies to use more unsolicited e-mails instead of the typical bulk or junk mail.

The free speech aspects of unsolicited e-mail are complex.

Certainly there are technical concerns when massive amounts of unsolicited e-mails overload computer servers. 

Opponents of unsolicited messages cite the time and labor required to delete such messages at thousands of computer stations. Because the cost of sending large quantities of e-mails is very low, the objection has been made that junk e-mailers shift the cost to the recipients. 

Yet in most jurisdictions case law protects unsolicited distribution of messages, and the U.S. Postal Service actually encourages junk mail. Some efforts have been made to develop a legal attack against unsolicited electronic messages.

But at least in the United States these laws must face muster before a Supreme Court that seems to be protective of commercial messages as well as political messages.

Still, hardly anyone defends illegalities in junk e-mail. Sometimes the content is illegal, promoting a pyramid scheme or untested drugs. Sometimes the sender takes illegal steps, such as hacking into a protected computer site, to send the message. 

More help sought
from First World

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

Latin American and Caribbean officials are urging industrialized nations to increase their assistance on environmental issues in developing nations as promised at the 1992 Earth Summit.

The officials called for the action Wednesday at the conclusion of a three-day meeting in Rio de Janeiro. The U.N.-sponsored conference was a prelude to next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development to be held in South Africa.

Colombian Environment Minister Juan Mayr says most industrial nations failed to meet a 1992 promise to use a small portion of their gross domestic product for sustainable development and environmental projects in developing countries.

Since this goal went largely unfulfilled, Mayr said Latin American and Caribbean nations must come up with other alternatives. Meanwhile, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso says the global environment depends on present action. He urged rich and poor countries to establish new partnerships on sustainable development.

Global warming as well as destruction of tropical rainforests continues nearly 10 years after the Rio summit. The officials meeting this week in Rio say the continued environmental degradation underscores the urgency for adopting concrete action at next year's South African conference. 
 

Oil workers strike in Brazil
over inflation offset

Brazilian union officials say oil workers have begun a five-day strike, shutting down oil refineries and drilling rigs throughout the country.

A spokesman for the United Oil Workers Federation says the strike began Wednesday after negotiators failed to produce results from the first round of talks with Petrobras, the state oil giant.

The union official says members want a salary hike, better working conditions and at least 40 percent compensation for inflation since 1994. Petrobras had offered a 6 percent wage increase, which union officials rejected. 

The spokesman said 37 of the company's 38 oil rigs in Campos Basin stopped pumping as a result of the strike, and eight of Petrobras' 11 refineries halted production. Petrobras has not confirmed the federation's claims.

The United Oil Workers Federation represents about 35,000 oil workers.
 

U.S. House passes
massive incentives

By A.M. Costa Rica wire services

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a $100 billion dollar economic stimulus package for the ailing U.S. economy. Wednesday's vote in the House was a razor thin 216 to 214 in favor of the Republican-backed plan.

The package includes business tax breaks and encourages more corporate investment. It would also include a new round of tax rebates for people who didn't get a check earlier this year. Democratic Party lawmakers contend the plan would mainly benefit big companies and do little to help workers most affected by current difficulties.

Earlier Wednesday, President Bush urged the House to pass the stimulus package, saying new tax cuts are needed to help the U.S. economy grow. He also says the tax cuts will be important to consumers as the Christmas holiday season approaches.

The measure now goes to the Democratically controlled Senate. Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress passed an 11-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut plan proposed by Bush.

U.S. wants to extradict
Colombian combatants

The U.S. ambassador to Colombia says the United States will seek to extradite and bring to trial Colombian rebels and right-wing paramilitaries suspected of money laundering and drug trafficking. 

Ambassador Anne Patterson made the announcement Wednesday at a money-laundering conference in the Colombian port city of Cartagena. She says the action is part of the U.S.-led war against terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. 

Ambassador Patterson says the United States will target three Colombian groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department. The groups are the leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) and paramilitaries with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). 

Suspected Colombian drug lords have been extradited to the United States, but members of paramilitary and rebel groups have not faced the U.S. justice system. 

The move comes as Colombian officials announced President Andres Pastrana will travel next month to the United States to meet with top U.S. officials. Colombia's war on drugs and stalled peace process are expected to top the agenda. 


 
 
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