UK law failing to nail spammers

On the first anniversary of the introduction of Britain's Privacy and Electronic Communication regulations, it emerges that not a single offender has yet been brought to book for sending unsolicited junk mail
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor
The UK government's anti-spam legislation has yet to make an impact, 12 months after its introduction.

Not a single prosecution has been brought under the Privacy and Electronic Communication regulations and none is imminent, according to the Office of the Information Commissioner on Monday.

"There haven't been any fines levied for a breach of the Act yet," said a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas who is responsible for enforcing these regulations. The spokesperson added that no prosecutions are imminent either.

These regulations came into force on 11 December. The e-commerce minister at the time, Stephen Timms, had claimed that they would play an important part in fighting the growth of unsolicited junk mail.

But critics of the regulations have said that the Information Commissioner hasn't been given enough clout to actually make a difference. Thomas's office isn't disputing this claim either.

"We are doing everything within our existing powers. We have been having ongoing dialogue with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) about how our powers are pretty limited," said the spokesperson.

"We want better investigative and information gathering powers," the spokesperson added, warning that the number of complaints being received is going up.

It is understood that several UK companies are being investigated for alleged breaches of the law, which could lead to a fine of up to £5,000 being imposed for each offence.

The DTI did not respond to requests for comment at the time of writing.

The Privacy and Electronic Communication regulations are an implementation of an EU directive that applies to all European countries. The US has brought in its CAN-SPAM law, which opponents say will fail to address the issue of spam.

According to Richard Allan MP, Liberal Democrat member for Sheffield Hallam, the absence of any British prosecutions against spammers is a sign that UK ISPs have been doing a good job at refusing to host spammers on their networks.

"It's a testament to the success of UK ISPs who don't let them online in the first place," Allan said.

Allan is a key member of the All Party Internet Group, which last year urged the UK government to play a bigger role on the international stage in the fight against spam.

"The real challenge is to deal with US-based spammers," said Allan. He believes that pressure is growing, but is concerned that spam is "too low on the UK government's radar".

Even though most of the spam hitting UK inboxes doesn't come from within Europe, Allan would support the Information Commissioner being given stronger powers. He points out that the recent surge in rogue dialling meant that regulators had to be given stronger powers.

"When there's a problem, the public doesn't want to hear that nothing can be done," Allan said.

Some experts were also unhappy that business email addresses were not protected by the government's anti-spam regulations. Steve Linford of Spamhaus, a leading campaigner against spammers, claimed earlier this year that some spammers are basing themselves in Britain because the UK laws weren't strong enough.

Linford believes that the EU should follow Australia's line on fighting spam. The Australian Anti-Spam Act 2003 provides for fines of up to AUS$ 1.1 million (£434,000) per day, and is thought to have had an immediate and lasting effect on local spammers.

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