Draft spam bill gives S'poreans right to sue

Proposed spam control bill recommends that anyone suffering damages from non-complaint spam can take legal action against spammers, and also recognizes mobile devices as delivery platforms.

SINGAPORE--The local government is calling for public feedback on its proposed Spam Control Bill which seeks to allow spam victims to take legal action.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) today issued a second public consultation paper to garner feedback on its draft Spam Control Bill, and clarify what constitutes as spam. The first call for consultation was conducted in May last year, according to an IDA media statement.

Written in collaboration with the Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore, the draft bill proposes that anyone "who suffers damages" arising from non-compliant spam has the right to take legal action against the alleged spammers. This is a modification from its previous suggestion that only service providers and organizations, which operate their own servers, would have the right to do so. Spam victims would still be required to prove there were damages before a court case can proceed.

Errant spammers who use dictionary attacks and/or scour the Internet for e-mail addresses and telephone numbers for collection or 'harvesting', can also be sued in a civil court action.

If proven guilty, spammers can be ordered to stop, or made to pay damages suffered by the affected party or statutory damages of up to S$25 (US$14.90) per spam message with a maximum penalty of S$1 million (US$595,500).

The draft bill also recognizes mobile spamming as a platform that can be affected and raised in a legal action, a component which IDA said is significant given Singapore's high mobile penetration rate of 97.5 percent.

"While IDA recognizes that the cost of sending mobile spam may be sufficient to deter indiscriminate mobile spamming, it is also aware of the difficulty for any mobile user to switch his mobile phone number for the purpose of avoiding mobile spam," the authority said in the statement. "The physical closeness and personal attachment of the mobile phone to the user further amplifies the negative effects caused by indiscriminate mobile spam activities."

The proposed bill defines mobile spam as one that includes "unsolicited, commercial electronic messages such as short text, graphics, video clips or sound files, sent to any mobile telecommunication devices". Fax transmissions and telemarketing are not included in the bill.

A Singapore-based tech lawyer has called for critical changes to be made to the draft, noting that the current proposal still does not address several issues. For example, a person whose computer has been hijacked and exploited to send spam could be held liable under the draft bill. He urges anyone with a personal or commercial interest in the bill to participate in the discussion, and offer their views to the authorities.

All feedback from the public and industry should be submitted in writing, to reach IDA before noon on October 14, 2005. The consultation paper can be downloaded from its Web site.