Spam inquiry to focus on international laws

EU countries will introduce laws this year to combat spam, but the problem is wider than Europe, as a cross-party inquiry by MPs will hear next month
Written by Matt Loney, Contributor

An inquiry into spam, to be held by a cross-party group of MPs next month, is to look at how international laws can be used to stem the flow of unsolicited bulk email.

Spam is an increasing problem not only for individuals, who often see their mail boxes fill up with junk emails offering everything from spam-blocking software to untold riches, but also for ISPs and for any company that runs corporate email servers.

As first reported at ZDNet UK, the inquiry will follow a Spam Summit to be opened by e-commerce minister Stephen Timms and hosted by Derek Wyatt MP. Wyatt, Labour member of parliament for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, is also joint chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APIG), which will conduct the ensuing inquiry.

Other areas to be addressed by the inquiry include technical methods that may prevent spam reaching users; social methods that may prevent problems with spam; future trends in spam; and spam's effect on devices other than PCs, such as mobile phones.

The APIG is currently calling for interested parties to present written evidence to the inquiry -- the deadline is 25 June, and the sessions will be held in the House of Commons on 3 and 10 July.

The ISP Association (ISPA) said it plans to submit evidence detailing the harm that spam does to the ISP industry. "People do tend to think that ISPs benefit from spam," said an ISPA spokesman. "But that is a complete misunderstanding. Spam costs the industry money: it affects how mail servers perform, it takes up bandwidth, and it can put people off using the Internet."

The rules in Europe will change later this year when the European Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications is written into the laws of member states (including the UK). The directive, which is in line to be made UK law using secondary legislation by 31 October, extends controls on unsolicited direct marketing to all forms of electronic communications including spam and SMS messages to mobile phones.

Both spam and SMS marketing will be subject to a prior consent requirement, so the receiver is required to agree to it in advance, except in the context of an existing customer relationship, where companies may continue to email or SMS on an "opt-out" basis.

But many in the industry believe laws that can be applied only within the EU do not go far enough. "The European directive is a start," said the ISPA spokesman. "But it only looks at spam on a European level. There is a need for wider international cooperation, and that is a situation that needs to be addressed. ISPs are doing a lot already -- they run abuse services that people can use to report spam, and their acceptable use policies mean that spammers can be disconnected, but it is a problem that does need to be addressed and which will take coordination from users, the industry and governments around the world."

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