MPs demand spam protection for businesses

The UK government has been warned that firms may 'rise up in anger' unless they are given protection from unsolicited junk mail

A group of technology-savvy MPs have warned that the British government is wrong to allow spam emails to be sent to business users, and are pushing for the "mistake" to be rectified.

The All Party Internet Group published the results of this summer's inquiry into the problem of unsolicited commercial emails on Monday. One of its key conclusions is that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has erred in its implementation of its anti-spam laws, by deliberately not giving corporate email accounts the same protection as personal ones.

"We believe that the DTI has made a very serious mistake in not prohibiting unsolicited business-to-business email," said APIG in its report. "When the DTI changes the rules on business-to-business cold-calling, they should take the opportunity to explicitly ban the sending of spam to business addresses."

Last month the government launched its anti-spam legislation, which implements the EU Privacy and Electronics Communication Directive. This law makes it an offence for a UK business to send junk email or text messages to individuals unless they are existing customers or have given their permission to receive such material.

The DTI says that it chose not to protect businesses from spam because it didn't want to inhibit legitimate business-to-business communications but APIG is not impressed, believing that firms also deserve protection from spam -- which is thought to make up at least 50 percent of all email.

"We're saying to the DTI that they've done pretty well so far, but that they should look at this loophole," explained Brian White MP, APIG treasurer, speaking at a press conference at Parliament. "A small or medium-sized enterprise is just as vulnerable to spam as a home user," White warned.

The key to addressing this issue, APIG says, is the guidelines that will be drawn up by the Information Commissioner -- who will enforce the government's regulations. These guidelines will define acceptable bulk business-to-business communications.

Richard Allan, APIG vice-chairman, hopes that these guidelines can be written to permit genuine business communications -- for example, when a photocopier-maker sends an unsolicited email to other firms in the photocopying trade advertising its wares -- and outlaw clearly unsolicited, unwanted and unsuitable spam such as Viagra adverts and pornography.

"Otherwise, if we have the situation where anyone can set up a business and send thousands of dodgy emails to your business, I think you'll see UK businesses rise up in anger about it," Allan predicted.