Government backs anti-spam mission to US

The government says it is taking the issue of spam seriously, but campaigners have condemned Britain's new anti-spam laws as a 'cock-up'

E-commerce minister Stephen Timms is giving his support to a delegation of UK politicians who are travelling to America next month to lobby for stricter spam controls.

The group, which will include Derek Wyatt MP and e-envoy Andrew Pinder, are scheduled to appear before a Congressional hearing in October -- where they are expected to urge the US to take strong action against the proliferation of unsolicited junk emails.

Around a dozen pieces of anti-spam legislation are currently under scrutiny in America. Last month, the chairman of the US Federal Trade Commission warned that these proposed laws would not address the growing spam problem, and might actually make it worse.

Many of these bills would put the onus on individual Web users to opt out of receiving unsolicited emails. Experts claim this would be disastrous for the future of the Internet, as it would effectively legitimise the practice of spamming.

Speaking to journalists this week, Timms explained that although he would not be taking part in the trip himself he was determined to meet the group before they left. He did not criticise the US' current approach, saying it was good news that the issue was being addressed, but did say that Britain and America have "a lot to talk about" spam-wise.

On Thursday Timms launched the UK's new anti-spam laws, which mean consumers should no longer get unsolicited commercial emails unless they have opted-in to receive them.

The government claims this move should help to combat spam, which currently makes up around half of all email. But a backlash has already hit the plans.

The Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam organisation that helps ISPs to block spammers from sending huge numbers of junk email, has accused Timms of "bungling" the implementation of anti-spam law, because the legislation brought in this week will only protect consumers, and not also businesses.

"Did we think the Department of Trade and Industry could cock up the UK's anti-spam law? Well, no we didn't; we thought e-commerce minister Stephen Timms had some grasp of the problem. Sadly it's now apparent the DTI were, like the American Congress, listening only to the lobby forces of the Direct Marketing Association," claimed Spamhaus in a statement released on Thursday.

Appearing at evidence sessions organised by the All Party Internet Group this summer, Steve Linford, director of The Spamhaus Project, warned that some of the proposed laws currently before the US Congress would allow spammers to come out of the dark and quite legally send massive amounts of unsolicited email.

Even if a user opted out from receiving email from a spammer on one day, the following day the spammer would change his company name and spam every email address he could find again.

"The volume of spam going out will be massive and you will be there trying to opt out of each one, and the spammer tomorrow just changes his company name," warned Linford. "You manage to get off one of his lists and 24 hours later you are back on another of his lists."

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