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EC draws line in spam sand

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The EC is calling for greater international co-operation in combating spam.

Speaking at this week's OECD workshop on spam in Brussels, Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said the OECD should "rapidly agree" a five-point framework to promote effective legislation against spam. This programme calls for co-operation between enforcement agencies, self-regulation by industry, technical measures, legislative action and greater consumer awareness.

The OECD workshop on spam coincided with the publication of new statistics which reveal junk mail traffic has increased, despite the introduction of anti-spam legislation in the US and Europe.

"Spam is a global problem that requires global action", said Commissioner Liikanen. "If we want to combat spam effectively, efforts made in the European Union and other regions of the world must be echoed by similar efforts at the international level, not only by governments but also businesses and consumers".

More than half (50 per cent) of all EU e-mail traffic is estimated to be spam, according to email filter outfit Brightmail.

The EU introduced a framework policy on spam last two years ago, which member states were obliged to write into national law by October 2003. In the US last month, the CAN-Spam Act (dubbed by critics as the "you can spam Act") became law.

EU and US approaches to anti-spam measures differ markedly, with US marketers only obliged to stop sending unsolicited communications once users opt-out of mailing lists. Europe has adopted a much tougher opt-in regime where prior permission from email recipients needs to be obtained.

That's the theory anyway.

January stats from Brightmail suggest the amount of spam increased to 60 per cent of email. In December 2003, Brightmail reckons 58 per cent of email was junk mail. In 2001 the figure was 'only' seven per cent.

Despite this increase, Brightmail believes that the passage of anti-spam laws internationally will play an important role in the fight against spam.

At an OECD level, the Commission hopes this week's workshop will "generate a better understanding of spam among all OECD member countries and build consensus on the next steps to be taken".

Mozelle Thompson, a commissioner at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, played down trans-Atlantic policy differences.

"Most of the spam we are seeing is so bad that the question of opt-in or opt-out isn't part of the question," he said.

"Instead of focusing on our differences we should focus on what we have in common, which is a spam problem," he added.

Background information on the OECD workshop on spam, as well as the Commission regulations on unsolicited commercial communication (AKA spam) are available here. ®

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