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The British Government once again voiced its commitment to the wired economy by attempting to talk its European partners into overturning their commitment to outlaw spam.

The Government, it seems, is happy for Net users to be bombarded with junk email containing all manner of pornographic filth, scams, frauds, deceptions and get-rich-quick schemes that prey on the vulnerable.

The Government is also happy that Net users pick up the tab for this pestering intrusion. It's their time online, their phone bill, their subscription costs - let punters pay for it.

And all in the name of commercial freedom - because companies shouldn't be prevented from "connecting with their customers".

At a meeting yesterday in Luxembourg, Douglas Alexander got his first big outing as Britain's new e-minister.

So what's his first task? That's right, argue that unsolicited commercial email is good for business, good for the development of the Internet, good for e-commerce.

He believes people should specify if they don't want to receive junk email. Funny, since a majority of European countries favour an "opt in" approach - a scheme which would mean users would receive commercial email only if they requested it.

Obviously, Alexander was unmoved by a European Commission report earlier this year which showed that spam was costing poeple in Europe E10 billion ($9.33 billion) a year.

Austria, Denmark, Finland, German and Italy have reportedly already introduced such "opt in" initiatives. Not the UK, though.

Alexander and former part-time e-minister and the current head of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Patricia Hewitt, are happy for ordinary voters, sorry, punters, to pay for the scurrilous activities of "business".

According to sources the British Government was pulling out all the stops to lobby other Euro nations in the run-up to yesterday's meeting and managed to win support from France. Perhaps it should have spammed them instead.

However, Britain's actions did serve to divide the countries, according to Italy's communications minister, Maurizio Gasparri.

"I sided in favour of the opt-in because consumers' protection must be a primary issue," he said by way of Reuters.

"I think the UK's position is too relaxed," he said.

It's now up to the European parliament to debate the issue.

We tried to get the DTI's perspective on this but no one could be arsed to talk return our calls. ®

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