European telecoms regulation may ban spam

A ban on spam is planned under changes to European telecom rules being discussed at a public hearing in Brussels Thursday.

Unsolicited email has long been regarded by ISPs and users alike as at best a nuisance and at worse an intrusion into privacy. The new proposal is widely seen as a U-turn by Brussels -- the e-commerce directive offered consumers the right to opt-out of email lists but imposed no ban.

Under the Processing of Personal Data Directive the Commission intends to give email the same status as telephone calls and faxes and ban all unsolicited communications.

It is a move welcomed by Euro ISPA (European Internet Service Providers' Association) which has long campaigned for legislation on the issue.

"According to research from Jupiter the average US surfer will receive up to 1,600 unsolicited emails every year by 2005. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with," says Euro ISPA spokesman Joe McNamee.

Telcos are not so happy with the proposed changes. Pablo Pfost, head of regulatory affairs at Spanish telephone company Telefonica sums up the attitude of many, describing the proposals as unworkable. "We can't support this document," he says. "It would mean we would have to send letters to our 16 million subscribers to keep them informed about the processing of their data."

If the proposal becomes law it would put an end to unsolicited direct marketing via email. Laurence Djolakian -- speaking on behalf of the Federation of European direct marketers -- believes a distinction needs to be drawn between spammers and genuine direct marketers. "Direct marketing is targetted and is not the same as spamming. There needs to be clarification between non-scrupulous spammers and direct marketers," she says.

MostISPs support the call for a ban on spam and one them, AOL, has been fighting an on-going battle with spammers. AOL's public affairs director Simon Hampton is not convinced legislation is the best way forward. "Most of the spam comes from outside of the EU so it doesn't matter what the EU does about it," he says. "Spam is trespassing on the resources of ISPs and it is in this way that we can get at the spammers themselves."

We regularly hear that some authority is trying to regulate the Net. This week it's been the turn of the European Commission. Andy Redfern reckons that our European brothers and sisters are barking up the wrong tree go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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