Dutch watchdog savages spammers

The Netherlands' success against the senders of junk emails and text messages highlights the UK's failure to get to grips with spam

Dutch telecoms regulators have imposed fines totalling €87,500 for a range of spamming offences.

Opta, the Dutch post and telecommunications regulator, said on Tuesday the highest fine of €42,500 had been given to an individual who had been involved in four separate spam attacks. This included the mass-mailing of an email that praised Hitler's book "Mein Kampf'' and pretended to have been sent by Dutch anti-spam activist Rejo Zenger.

The spammer also cooperated with publishing company Groenendaal Uitgeverij to send unwanted messages advertising financial software, for which the company was fined €25,000.

In a separate case, the regulator imposed a fine of €20,000 on marketing company Yellow Monday, which sent unwanted SMS messages to people and charged €1.10 for each message.

Opta has been tackling spam since a new telecommunications law came into force in the Netherlands in May, which bans unwanted email, faxes and SMS messages. The regulator has set up a Web site where people can register complaints about spam. This site has already received 6,000 complaints, which have led to 14 warnings being sent to suspected spammers, according to Opta.

In recognition that international cooperation is essential in tackling spam, Opta has also been working with French privacy watchdog CNIL to exchange information on spammers.

The Dutch government appears to be having a great deal more success in tackling spam than the UK government, which has not prosecuted a single offender since anti-spam legislation was brought in last year.

CipherTrust, an email security firm, warned last week that European anti-spam legislation was failing to deal with the problem of unsolicited junk email. It cited predictions from Radicati Group analysts that 71 percent of all email will be spam by 2008, and criticised governments -- such as the UK's -- which have chosen not to make spamming business email addresses an offence.

"When this legislation came into effect it was criticised for only protecting consumers. A year on this criticism is verified, as companies battle with the rising cost of spam on the bottom line, employee productivity and the consumption of IT resources," said Paul Judge, Ciphertrust's chief technology officer.

The Information Commissioner's Office, which enforces Britain's anti-spam laws, has been urging the UK government to give it stronger powers.

But as the US is home to the principle creators of spam, it's very difficult for the EU to solve the problem alone. There is broad agreement in the security industry that a mixture of tough legislation, technology and user education is the only way to fix the problem.

"The EU and the UK government should continue to support the legislation currently in place, take steps to strengthen it where possible and focus on enforcing the legislation when the day arrives when they are able to prosecute a spammer, or when a significant percentage of these messages come from within their borders," Dr Phyllis Schneck, vice-president of strategic development at CipherTrust, told ZDNet UK.

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