The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) late Friday released its findings to the Australian Labor Party's spokesperson on information technology, Kate Lundy, after last week investigating whether bulk e-mails -- containing Liberal Party promotional material -- sent to voters in some electorates by Net Harbour on behalf of Howard and other Liberal politicians breached the Spam Act.
Net Harbour -- a company of which Howard's son Tim is a director -- distributed the e-mails for the Prime Minister to voters in his seat of Bennelong as per a contract signed with the NSW Liberal Party. The Prime Minister then reimbursed the state Liberals out of his own pocket. Net Harbour's arrangements with the other politicians are unclear.
A spokesperson for Lundy said the ALP believed that, should it win government, it may need to beef up relevant provisions of Australia's privacy legislation in light of what appears to be a narrow commercial interpretation of the Spam Act by the ACA.
The spokesperson said via e-mail the ACA appeared to have deemed the activities of the politicians and Net Harbour "non-commercial" under the Spam Act.
An ACA spokesperson declined to comment further than to note that the authority had sent a reply to Lundy last week.
In response to letters from Lundy asking for an examination of the issue, ACA acting chairman Allan Horsley said the e-mails involved do "not relate to goods and services supplied by a registered political party and so the provisions ... of the Spam Act 2003 concerning designated commercial electronic messages are not relevant.
"These provisos apply where a commercial message has been sent or authorised to be sent by a registered political party, government body, charity, charitable institution or religious organisation where the message relates to the goods and services supplied by the body.
"In addition it can be noted that the concession in relation to designated commercial electronic messages does not require the consent of the recipient".
Responding to Lundy's specific question as to whether Net Harbour had used e-mail harvesting software to secure the e-mail addresses of voters in the electorates, Horsley said the company had advised the ACA that members of the Liberal Party had supplied them.
"We also note that the Spam Act 2003 only prohibits the use of address harvesting software when used for sending commercial electronic messages as defined in Section 6 of the Act," Horsley said.
The ACA said it had undertaken its investigation by examining the e-mails sent out, obtaining information directly from Net Harbour and its Web site, checking relevant personal Web sites and "made enquiries of the director of the NSW division of the Liberal Party of Australia".