Government: Our spam laws won't be enough

The e-commerce minister has admitted that the UK can't solve the problem of junk email on its own
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The government has admitted that its forthcoming anti-spam law will not solve the problem of unsolicited bulk email on its own.

This legislation will prevent UK companies from sending commercial emails to Internet users who haven't already given their permission, and should come into force this autumn. It is the UK government's way of implementing the European Union's directive on privacy and electronic communications.

According to e-commerce minister Stephen Timms, who is overseeing the bill's introduction, it won't be enough. Timms told the Spam Summit at the House of Commons on Tuesday that a global approach was needed to combat the growing menace of spam.

"Will spam vanish from inboxes at the end of October? Realistically, the answer has to be no," Timms said. He explained that this was because of the problem of tracing spammers, and because most unsolicited bulk email comes from outside the EU.

However, Timms also cast doubt on the ability of the forthcoming legislation to put a stop to British offenders

"Even in the UK, we can't expect complete compliance with the new directive," said Timms.

Derek Wyatt MP, joint-chair of the All Party Internet group, which organised Tuesday's event, suggested that a global spam summit could be needed to drive the agenda forwards.

In response, Timms said that a summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva in December this year, would include discussion on combating spam.

Other contributors taking part in the debate included Steve Linford of Spamhaus, a project that traces the worse spammers and helps ISPs to block their traffic.

"There are now 200 main spammers worldwide, and 90 percent of all spam can be traced back to one of these two hundred outfits," Linford told the Spam Summit.

According to Linford, Spamhaus has a highly detailed knowledge of these 200 spammers, including knowing which IP addresses they control. This means Spamhaus can significantly hamper their work, but not completely stop it.

"It's very hard for these people to use their networks for spamming, because we block them. However, everyone on our list sends at least 50 million spam emails per day, by using loopholes such as open relays and open proxies," said Linford, referring to computers on the Internet that will bounce an email or a request to a Web site onto another computer.

Unsurprisingly, Spamhaus's work has not been well-received by the spamming community. "After we block them, they're on the phone threatening to slit our throats," Linford revealed.

Linford also cast doubt on the ability of legislators to fight spammers.

"These guys have spent lots of money on their networks, and they're not going to give up spamming whatever the law says," Linford warned.

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