Spam Act review lauds anti-spam success

Summary:Estimates that up to 80 percent of all e-mails are now spam show the problem hasn't gone away, but self-congratulation was still prominent as the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) handed down its first report on the Spam Act 2003.

Estimates that up to 80 percent of all e-mails are now spam show the problem hasn't gone away, but self-congratulation was still prominent as the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) handed down its first report on the Spam Act 2003.

The review, mandated as part of the original legislation designed to curb the growth of 'spam' -- unsolicited, usually commercial but increasingly malicious e-mails -- claimed success in many aspects of the fight against the people that send them. Most notably, a recent ranking of spam-producing countries noted that Australia had dropped from 10th place when the legislation was introduced, to 23rd place currently.

Australia's global contribution to the exploding spam problem was never massive, but the success of the legislation in reducing Australian-originated spam nonetheless attracted considerable praise by minister Helen Coonan, who sees the report as confirmation that Australian experience is setting the pace for the rest of the world. Spam Act provisions have been lauded by both the International Telecommunications Union and anti-spam organisation Spamhaus.

"As part of the government's multilayered strategy against spam, [the review found that the legislation] enabled active enforcement, productive industry partnerships and, most importantly, international cooperation against the global problem that is spam," Coonan says. "The government will carefully consider [the report's] recommendations, ensuring that Australia's anti-spam approach continues to be appropriately targeted and effective."

What was not covered in the report was the cost of the legislation, which has so far produced just one successful prosecution -- against Perth-based spammer Wayne Mansfield and company Clarity1, which sent over 56 million spam messages between April 2004 and April 2005.

As of March 31, enforcement body the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had received 4274 formal complaints about spam, issued 10 formal warning letters and imposed 13 fines and infringement notices "of more than AU$20,000" to businesses found to be using e-mail and SMS against the terms of the Act. Furthermore, ACMA has forced over 600 businesses to change their e-mail and SMS marketing strategies to come back into compliance.

The report, however, highlighted the importance of an educative, not punitive, environment around anti-spam offensives and recommended a continued focus on educating businesses and individuals about both their responsibilities and avenues of recourse under the Act.

This multi-layered strategy -- combining education and awareness, international cooperation, and technical measures -- will be backed with stronger involvement of industry in codes of practice. For example, the Internet Industry Spam Code of Practice, governing ISPs, will come into effect on July 16 to join the Australian Direct Marketing Association-backed eMarketing Code of Practice introduced in March 2005.

International cooperation frameworks are already in place, with the 11-member Seoul-Melbourne agreement referred to several times as a model of international involvement. And technical trials, such as the Australian Internet Security Initiative trial being run by ACMA and five ISPs, will seek to address the growing problem of spam sent by 'zombie' computers.

The report attracted significant interest from the public, with 64 written submissions received during the inquiry. Most of the report's 30 recommendations recommended the continuation of the status quo, but a number of outstanding issues were also earmarked for future attention.

These including clarifying legislative requirements and consumer rights around premium SMS messages; further consultation on the issue of whether fax communications should be added to the scope of the act; joint work between ACMA and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to clarify consumers' rights over information used during international spam investigations; additional public education about inferred consent provisions and definitions of spam; an increase in Australia's enforcement ability against spam of overseas origin; and ongoing engagement with international anti-spam fora.

Topics: Reviews, Government : AU


As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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