The government is considering exempting business email accounts from its forthcoming clampdown on unsolicited bulk email, a move that would give spammers the green light to continue bombarding UK workers with junk messages.
Speaking at the Spam Summit at the House of Commons on Tuesday, e-commerce minister Stephen Timms said the government was still weighing up whether businesses should be treated differently from individual Internet users in the forthcoming legislation, which should come into force this autumn.
"Many people feel strongly that anti-spam measures could hamper business-to-business (B2B) commerce. Others feel equally strongly that unsolicited email is just as big a problem for businesses," Timms explained.
By bringing in this anti-spam legislation, the government is implementing the European Union's directive on privacy and electronic communications.
A consultation on the government's plans was launched in March and closed last month. The responses are being examined by the government, and are expected to be published in August when the final version of the legislation will be decided.
A DTI spokesman confirmed to ZDNet UK that the government hadn't yet decided to give corporate email accounts the same level of protection from bulk junk email as personal accounts.
He explained that the government is keen to maintain a balance that allows it to fight the spam boom without hampering legitimate business practices.
Under the current version of the government's proposed plans, it would be illegal for a UK company to send unsolicited communications to individuals who had not already given their permission, putting spam on an opt-in footing. Existing customers, though, will still need to opt-out of receiving spam emails and SMSs.
If businesses were exempt from these new measures, then it appears that the government would effectively be giving its approval to spammers to send unsolicited adverts and get rich quick schemes to millions of corporate email users.
There's no argument that spam is becoming more of a headache for UK companies. Email management firm MessageLabs has calculated that a firm of 500 people loses around £3,300 per month in lost productivity through dealing with unsolicited email, if it hasn't introduced effective anti-spam measures.
For a company with a workforce of 5,000 employees, this figure rises to £32,771 per month, or almost £400,000 per year.
Timms also told the Spam Summit that the government's legislation wouldn't be enough on its own to solve the growing problem of unsolicited email -- a view shared by many of the politicians and technologists attending the event.