At a global meeting of regulators in Geneva (hosted by the UN), one strategist for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said the problems caused by spam, viruses and phishing e-mails are such that millions of people may leave the Internet "in frustration and disgust".
Several countries, including Australia, made the right noises about the importance of cooperation at a legislative and enforcement level in bringing the problem -- which has grown to the point that the ITU estimates more than three-quarters of inbound e-mail is unsolicited -- under control.
Australian Communications Authority acting head Bob Horton reportedly told the meeting that unsolicited e-mails were "a disease which has spread around the world -- we have an epidemic on our hands that we need to control".
However, can it be done within two years?
There is little evidence that legislation in itself --be it fraud-related or anti-spam -- is having much effect to date on the volume or nature of unsolicited e-mails reaching our inboxes. While there are encouraging signs that the authors of such e-mails in some countries may be becoming increasingly acquainted with the legal system, in other areas developments are less promising. The fact is that tackling the most malignant form of unsolicited e-mail, those used for a phishing scam, requires an assault on well-entrenched crime syndicates operating in countries where enforcement may prove more difficult than relatively law-abiding nations such as Australia. At this stage, the authors of such scams are staying well ahead of efforts to block them or educate users not to fall for their bait.
While the ITU strategist's comments may sound like hyperbole, they do at least promote the reality that the insidious schemes and techniques used to separate Internet users from their cash threaten to compromise the ability of e-mail and the Internet to reach their potential. Your writer suspects, however, that the two-year time-frame set by the UN to bring unsolicited e-mail under control may be too tight. The war will continue well beyond that.