Next up: Universal database on spammers

Q&A Australia's peak Internet industry body has upped the ante against unsolicited bulk e-mail senders, a move sparked by lawsuits against spammers in the United States.In the US, America Online, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo teamed up to file a combination of six lawsuits against hundreds of alleged spammers under America's Can-Spam Act.

Q&A Australia's peak Internet industry body has upped the ante against unsolicited bulk e-mail senders, a move sparked by lawsuits against spammers in the United States.

In the US, America Online, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo teamed up to file a combination of six lawsuits against hundreds of alleged spammers under America's Can-Spam Act.

Can-Spam (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) came into effect late 2003 but has been said to be ineffective thus far. A study by mail-filtering software maker MX Logic revealed that only three percent of bulk commercial e-mail included the required valid US postal address and a valid link to opt out of future messages -- requirements that are part of the anti-spam legislation.

As Australia's version of the Act comes into effect on April 10, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of such a law and how it will be enforced. In fact, at a recent anti-spam forum in Sydney, participants were told that most Australian businesses have yet to comply.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) is aware of such criticisms levelled against the Act but says Australia's spam law is only one part of the equation. In an interview with ZDNet Australia&nbsp, Peter Coroneos, IIA chief executive, outlined how the organisation is working with the federal government, the private sector and other countries to bring spammers to justice.

IIA members include telecommunications carriers, Internet Service Providers e-commerce traders and solutions providers. It provides policy input to government and advocacy on a range of business and regulatory issues.

Q: America Online, Microsoft, EarthLink and Yahoo have filed lawsuits against hundreds of alleged spammers. Do you see a similar move here? If so when?
A: Definitely. In fact, we have a meeting with the Australian Federal Police on Friday on how to prosecute these people. We'll be working on a strategy to bring them to court. We're also working with our ISP members to see who is breaking the law.

All around the world, countries are passing anti-spam laws. Today we have several multi-lateral agreements with other governments to share information. Legislation alone is not enough. It's a four-pronged approach to combating spam -- the law, technology, end-user empowerment and international co-operation.

You make it sound so easy. Global co-operation is a complex issue -- take the fight against terrorism as an example. Until today, certain countries have failed to effectively share intelligence on individuals or groups.
Australia has signed MOUs (memorandum of understanding) with several countries such as the US, Korea, Chile and Indonesia to exchange information and intelligence about spam-related activities. We also share information on policy matters. It won't be easy but I'm confident we'll see some form of global co-operation on this issue.

Based on what you've said, it seems like Australia is ahead of the pack....
Yes, even the US doesn't have our co-regulation idea where a combination of industry and government works in tandem to solve issues.

Many spammers use port 25 to relay e-mail and a majority of users are unaware of this. Some Australian ISPs have taken the step to block this port. How is the IIA and other ISPs tackling this issue?
We'll be developing a code of practice for ISPs so the illegal relaying of e-mail will be less of a problem. We're also talking to the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) about a separate code for marketers. We should see something by the end of the year. Then, what we'll need are similar codes to be adopted by other countries.

I believe we'll see some progress on the mail relay issue this year but it's a real challenge in other nations. For instance, in certain parts of Asia and South America, spammers actually pay ISPs to keep port 25 open.

What about open proxies?
Usually, proxies are by default left "open". So what we need here is education ... we need to educate our end users to close proxies, especially when using the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet, what do you make of the ongoing broadband wars? Surely it is good for consumers?
The IIA supports the low broadband prices now but in the longer-term, users need to have consistently affordable broadband pricing.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is investigating whether Telstra has acted anti-competitively. What outcome do you forsee?
We support the ACCC's cause. It has economic analysts looking at pricing imputations so we'll leave it to them.

A number of small ISPs have claimed that Telstra's decision to slash broadband prices could effectively put them out of business. What is the IIA's stance on this?
I'd advise them to present their case to the ACCC.

Do you see the number of ISPs in Australia shrinking over time?
This has always been the talk but I think you'll still see a place for smaller ISPs serving certain geographic areas or niches.

Are you happy with the broadband penetration rate in Australia?
No, we think everyone should have broadband access now. Pricing and availability are the two biggest issues which get in the way.