The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has admitted it fails to take legal steps against UK spammers while "successfully" enforcing regulations against 13 fax marketers.
The ICO, the UK's last official port of call to complain about spam, said it had received more complaints about illicit fax marketing than junk email.
In an email to ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com, the ICO wrote: "As breaches of these regulations are not criminal offences there can not be any prosecutions. Putting this into context with other complaints we receive under the same and previous legislation, we receive far more complaints about direct marketing faxes and have been successful in taking enforcement action in 13 cases of breaches by fax companies."
The government details were obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act. The ICO's comments follow a report from the department in which it said it required more powers to act against spam but for now the public should complain to their ISPs.
"[T]he commissioner recognises the limits of regulation alone, especially where materials originate from outside the UK. There have been some initiatives to encourage co-operation between the various regulatory authorities — for example, the Information Commissioner has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with other relevant UK bodies and authorities in Australia and the US.
"In the meantime, the Commissioner recommends that individuals take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of getting unwanted email, by seeking advice from their Internet service provider," the ICO said in its annual report.
According to industry sources, the ICO is writing to spammers as a result of 300 complaints deemed 'actionable', to request removal of the complainant's email address from the spammer's list.
Anti-spam campaigner Spamhaus has hit out at the ICO for failing to control spammers. Steve Linford, director of Spamhaus, said: "If I was a spammer I'd love Britain. I can spam as much as I like and I get an office who deals with opting people out of my lists for free; I don't even need to pay staff to do it for me as they're paid by the government.
"The reality is that spammers in the UK can spam the entire country and at the very worst they might get a letter some months later from the ICO asking them to stop spamming Mrs Jones of Richmond."
Linford explained that Spamhaus and ISPs are the only ones stopping spammers, by barring them from sending junk email through their systems.
"The UK's spam law was a waste of time and public money, it urgently needs to be scrapped and rewritten to properly ban spamming and make a ban enforceable," he added.