[From the diaries by susanhu.] Last Saturday, July 16th, two interesting events occurred. First I read on Bradblog that Symantic had, for the past week, been blocking all e-mail that either came from or mentioned in its text “afterdowningstreet.org.” I was skeptical, but shortly thereafter I received my first e-mail from this group in a week, and it had been sent three days earlier. Concerned, I sent e-mails both to Comcast Abuse, and to Comcast customer care seeking confirmation or denial that this had indeed occurred, and if the former, requesting an explanation. I received auto-responses promising that a personal response would follow. It never came.
Afterdowningstreet.org has a fairly thorough accounting of the blocking on their site, and the story has been gaining mileage. Common Dreams reported on it this past Wednesday.

After seeing the Common Dreams piece I phoned Comcast headquarters and asked to speak to someone in the executive offices. I was connected to a person who was clueless about this, and he switched me to Government Affairs, thinking they might know more. I got someone’s voice mail and left a detailed and specific message. No one called me back. Finally yesterday I called back the person I had spoken with on Wednesday and complained vociferously about the run-around I was getting. I made it clear that I thought there were serious constitutional issues involved, and that as a paying Comcast customer I was entitled to some answers.

Finally today I received the following e-mail from an “Executive Support Analyst” in “National Customer Service”:

We have shared this information with our customers in our user forum. I am providing a copy for your convenience.

To help protect our customers from unwanted spam, Comcast works with Symantec and utilizes their best-in-class Brightmail anti-spam system.

According to Symantec, the Web address www.afterdowningstreet.org was submitted directly to the Brightmail system by several thousand users as being a common element in multiple unsolicited (or unwanted) emails. This caused the Symantec Brightmail system to identify these messages as spam and automatically block them from mail systems using Brightmail, including Comcast’s mail system.

In response to customer inquiries, Comcast investigated this situation and determined that some wanted email was being blocked by the Brightmail protective filter. After bringing the situation to Symantec’s attention, Symantec promptly adjusted the Brightmail filter and the email block involving the web address www.afterdowningstreet.org was lifted. Comcast High-Speed Internet subscribers should now be able to send and receive email containing this URL without any difficulty.

I was not satisfied with this response and sent this follow-up e-mail:

I do not find this at all credible because in order to receive e-mail from afterdowningstreet.org you have to go to their site and sign up to receive it. I therefore have to question your assertion that “several thousand users” reported unwanted emails from www.afterdowningstreet.org. I am also concerned that you apparently take it upon yourself to block e-mail from certain sources without giving your customers any indication that this is occurring. In this case the blocking of e-mail that was strictly political in nature came to light because afterdowningstreet.org investigated why their e-mails were not getting through to thousands of activists involved in organizing protest activities, and the blocking was subsequently publicized both at their web site and at other web sites. What assurances do you offer that other wanted e-mails are not also being blocked?

I remain deeply troubled by this and request assurances that this is not an ongoing problem. I also would like to know if you have researched the legality of blocking e-mail without the consent or knowledge of your customers.

Lest I be suspected of accusing Comcast of conspiring with the Bush administration to interfere with national protest activity being planned by afterdowningstreet.org and Congressman John Conyers, another explanation comes to mind, albeit a sinister one. What is there to stop a Bush-friendly organization from making mischief by having their members sign up to receive “afterdowningstreet.org” e-mails and then reporting them as un-solicited spam? I am prepared to believe that Comcast and Semantic are not deliberately censoring our mail, but the blocking procedure they describe is very vulnerable to the whims of any group with an agenda. Does any one doubt that there are people and organizations out there capable and willing to engage in this kind of dirty trick?

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