A consultation by the Department of Trade and Industry in advance of drawing up the UK's much-criticised anti-spam laws has been exposed as a sham.
An enquiry by ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that the UK government took advice on whether businesses want to receive spam from many of the very companies with a vested interest in sending unsolicited email. Their ability to rally in numbers behind their own best interests swung the consultation in their favour.
While only 195 respondents called for stricter anti-spam legislation, a total of 247 parties registered their support for not applying spam protection to business email. Large sections of the list read like a who's who of direct marketing.
Many of these organisations claimed limiting the freedom to spam businesses would hamper UK commerce but in reality it is the financial cost of lost bandwidth and productivity which have hit businesses far harder. Some even laboured under the misapprehension that businesses actually wanted spam.
Steve Linford from Spamhaus said the process was "shameful".
"For the DTI to have been suckered in by this is very bad," said Linford. "They consulted with the very people who of course are going to say businesses want spam. They are all in the junk mail business."
However, some respondents have now seen the error of their ways, realising they created a giant loophole in UK law which effectively legitimised all spam.
A spokesman for the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com: "At the time spam was not such a big problem for business and the general feeling was that business wanted to hear from other organisations in order to maintain and establish new contacts."
"However, the problem has grown and maybe now attitudes are different," he added. "Clearly the problem has grown enormously over the years and I guess our view would be very different today."
Andrew Sparrow, a lawyer who consulted with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and British Chamber of Commerce, said the response he drafted was on the understanding "the government held open the opportunity to introduce further laws to combat business-to-business spam if it became clear this was becoming a problem".
"The lack of objection was also on the basis that businesses expect to be marketed to," he added.