Take on the spammers with Aussie rules

Spammers have one weak spot - the wallet. Australia hasn't hesitated to strike where it hurts, and neither should we

The fight against spam is in an almighty mess. Microsoft's rewriting of Sender ID is a case in point. It's a move in the right direction but not far enough - as we have said, patents have no place in such an important issue, and that issue remains unresolved. Spam's continued prominence underlines the failure of technology companies to address the issue of unsolicited junk mail.

Few of our elected representatives have done any better. The UK government shamefully capitulated to the direct marketing industry by bringing in a law that specifically made it legal to send spam to businesses - a masterpiece of misdirection.

The true heroes of the spam wars are people like Steve Linford, director of Spamhaus. He runs a blacklist of the worst spammers and so helps ISPs to block their wares. As a reward, he is a regular target for legal action -- he's even had death threats from the organised criminals who run the worst spamming operations.

Linford played an important role in helping the Australian government to write its own anti-spam law. In Australia, if you send unsolicited emails you can be fined over one million Australian dollars. That's close to half a million pounds, for every day that you spam.

That hit the spammers where they hurt. Spamhaus detected a plunge in spam from Australia as soon as the law came into force. In contrast, after Britain's feeble anti-spam law was introduced Linford actually saw spammers flooding into the UK.

But a nation-by-nation fix won't be enough -- after all, the Net is a global medium. Sender ID is back from its near-death experience and the SPF community are still active. Technological solutions will be found to stamp down on this menace.

Legislation can only play a secondary role in the long term, as spammers will inevitably shift their operations into whichever countries have the laxest rules. But in the short and medium-term, anti-spam laws are desperately needed to stem the tide.

And the great news is that Europe may be facing up to this challenge. Linford has been called in by the European Commission to advise it on new spam legislation. He's going to tell them to follow the Australian model. Europe needs to listen to Linford, to act, and to force countries like Britain to do a better job of squishing spam -- and to ignore the faceless civil servants and self-interested businesses who lack the motivation and the skills to help.