Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation

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Helsinki, 1 November, 2003 — Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation

The proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail, "spam", has become one of the most significant problems facing the Internet today. According to some estimates, the amount of spam has increased from seven to over 50 percent of global e-mail traffic in the last two years.

The proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail, "spam", has become one of the most significant problems facing the Internet today. According to some estimates, the amount of spam has increased from seven to over 50 percent of global e-mail traffic in the last two years.

In addition, the loss in productivity for EU businesses was estimated at 2.5 billion euros in 2002. This, combined with the increasing amount of time and money consumers spend to clean up their e-mail boxes has a detrimental impact on the development of the information society.

European Commission Takes Concrete Action

The European Commission wants to take concrete action to counter spam and increase consumer awareness through international co-operation, focusing on enforcement and technical measures. In mid October the Commission organised a workshop on spam in Brussels, where the problem of unsolicited commercial e-mail was discussed with representatives from industry, consumer associations and individual Member States.

The first legislative step to combating spam will be the implementation of the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications. Member States will have to transpose the ban on unsolicited e-mail into national law by the end of October 2003. The directive introduces a so called "opt-in" regime to the Member States. According to this rule, e-mail marketing will only be allowed with the recipient's prior consent, otherwise it will be considered as spam and the sender might be fined. The opt-in regime also covers SMS messages and other electronic messages received on mobile or fixed terminals.

Spam Do Not Recognise National Borders

The new directive, however, only solves part of the problem since much spam originates from outside the EU. Spam do not recognise national borders. Therefore, abolishing spam requires global action. The EU and the United States consider the fight against spam a major priority in their discussions on consumer affairs.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has also started a spam working group.

In addition to international co-operation, it is important to cover a wide range of actions as well as both bilateral and multilateral co-operation. Initiatives should address the various technical, legal and educational challenges of spam. Industry, consumers and Member States all have a significant role to play in the fight against spam.

At the seminar in Brussels, some consumer associations expressed their concerns about the lack of resources required to combat spam. Questions such as how to advise consumers on spam, where complains should be addressed and what to do with spam were considered. Some countries, like France and Belgium, have set up mailboxes to which users can forward spam. However, there are a number of obstacles to finding a solution. The tracing of spammers requires vast resources, and even when identified, there is no guarantee that anything can be done to stop them, as their country may not have adopted anti-spamming legislation.

Of the technical measures used to combat spam filtering software and the installation of filtering programmes for individual users can decrease the amount of spam received. However, it is not easy to find a solution that would satisfy all users and addressing each individual users needs is expensive. Furthermore, monitoring spam may also mean checking its content, which may be against the Constitution of the specific jurisdiction involved. Filtering is however necessary up to certain extent.

FiCom Fights Against Spam

Ficom, in co-operation with others, has initiated the fight against spam in Finland. The opening of its campaign was organised in October and currently three working groups have been formed, focusing on technical, legal and awareness raising measures. Ficom's aim is also to expand co-operation with international partners in the future.
It appears that at the moment, the same problems are tackled in Europe and around the world without much international co-operation. At the Brussels seminar an international co-operation forum was suggested. Best practices and good solutions need to be exchanged and explored. Initiatives need to be started before spam begins to dissuade consumers from using the Internet. The Commission agreed to investigate the possibility of setting up a spam web page and Communication on spam will come out still before the end of 2003.

Lauha Fried
EU Affairs Manager
FiCom (Brussels)
Tel: +322 502 8271

More information
lauha.fried@ficom.fi
http://www.ficom.fi