The United Nations on Thursday recommended enforceable codes of conduct
for Internet service providers as a way to cut down on spam.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN
organization responsible for global telecoms standards, recommended that ISPs be
required to enforce codes of conduct regarding their customers, and block
spammers' e-mail access.
"Some ISPs are very proactive, and are spending huge amounts
of money combating spam. The problem is not all ISPs are doing this. A smaller
group of ISPs profit from carrying spam or take no action, and those bad apples
touch the rest of the ISP community," said Susan Schorr, regulatory officer with
the ITU's telecommunications development bureau.
Currently most antispam laws are targeted at hunting down
and prosecuting spammers, according to ITU. "This is an expensive and difficult
task, and a model that is not realistic in developing countries," said Schorr.
The UN said it is seeking "a level playing field" so all
ISPs take action against spam, especially those who are currently "bad apples".
Legislation would be an effective way of forcing those ISPs to comply, according to the ITU.
"We're proposing regulators could pass legislation to
require ISPs to enter into enforceable codes of conduct for their customers," Schorr told ZDNet UK.
Initially, the ITU would like to see ISPs drafting their own
codes of conduct which would then be approved by telecommunications regulators.
"ISPs themselves will be given the first opportunity to
draft a code of conduct. The code of conduct would then be submitted to
regulators for approval, who would modify it to meet standards of best practice," said Schorr.
As to what would happen to ISPs who broke this code, "it
would be up to the regulators to take some kind of action...sanctions based on
legislation to require enforceable codes of conduct," said Schorr.
AOL cautiously welcomed moves to implement agreements between ISPs.
"What would help in the fight against spam are widespread
agreements to the type and level of actions ISPs should take, with the
qualification that we are not there to police the Internet. We are there to
protect our members from unofficial marketing," said Phil Hale, senior
communications manager with AOL UK. "The difficulty is in ISPs policing their
own customers--we aren't Internet policemen."
Hale claimed that AOL does a lot to combat spam already,
blocking between 1.5 billion and 2 billion e-mail a day. "Spam is 75 percent of
all e-mail that's directed towards our e-mail members--this is the scope of what we're faced with," he said.
Some ISPs had been proactive in reducing spam but their
reluctance to "police" customers leaves holes for spammers to exploit according to the ITU.
"We wouldn't be surprised that some ISPs would be reluctant
to accept this--part of the reason many have been proactive in blocking spam has
been to avoid legislation, and they have made heroic efforts," said Schorr. "The
problem is, as long as there's not a level playing field, we will have ISPs that
court spammers, and we all suffer."