Banning an IP range, the largest of banhammers, is the ultimate crowd control tool for most websites. If you’re enough of a douchebag on a site, they will essentially make it impossible for you to come back. Of course, you can just disguise your IP address and get a new account, right? Uh, nope. Not anymore.
In fact, cloaking your IP address has been ruled a violation of the Computer Fraud And Abuse Act, meaning it’s a federal crime to spoof your IP for the purposes of visiting a site you’ve been banned from. This isn’t some piddling random law, either; it’s the law that basically dictates what theft is and isn’t on the Internet in the United States.
You might be wondering how the hell the federal government came up with this decision. The answer lies, surprisingly, with Craigslist. Craigslist has been fighting sites like PadMapper that scrape the site for information, and blocked their IP address. PadMapper and similar sites just hid their IPs. But according to U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer…
The law of trespass on private property provides a useful, if imperfect, analogy. Store owners open their doors to the public, but occasionally find it necessary to ban disruptive individuals from the premises. That trespass law has enforced those bans with criminal penalties has not, in the brick and mortar context, resulted in the doomsday scenarios predicted by 3Taps in the internet context.
As the law has been found, repeatedly, to apply to both people and corporations, it stands to reason that you could use this interpretation of the law to get somebody using an IP spoofer to troll you arrested. Of course, you have to know who they are and be able to find them, but that’s becoming an increasingly trivial job. So, yeah, sooner or later a troll is going to a federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.