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Germany moots jail for spammers

'We need really hard sanctions'

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Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD) is mooting tough sanctions for spammers. These would include big fines for spammers and the companies which use their services, and prison sentences for the worst offenders.

Ulrich Kelber, an SPD MP who is promoting the draft law, says that small fines will not deter the top 50 spammers. "In the event of repeated violation we need really hard sanctions," he said. The law could be a signal to other countries, too, he added. "And perhaps even spammers outside of Germany would think twice if they know that they had to face these sentences when they cross German borders."

But it's going to be a tough battle, he acknowledges. "Even if we combine all efforts, legal, technical and best practice, which we must, we will not end the spam problem."

Germany's current laws affecting spammers are weak. The ministry of justice has, to date, favoured civil sanctions against spammers. It has implemented the opt-in principle stipulated by the EC Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communcation (2002/58/EC) in the German Law against Unfair Competition (UWG). But this only allows for civil right complaints of competitors. ISPs have no independent right to file complaints; and users must file their spam complaints through consumer protection associations.

The industry group Electronic Commerce Forum (ECO) has published a white paper calling for remedies to come under criminal law, especially actions such as counterfeiting sender adresses and hacking servers for use as spam relays. Such provisions are in the draft law. Mail harvesting, too, would be penalized by the new law.

Central to the thinking of the ECO anti-spam white paper is a "Trusted Network". This would allow privileged and unfiltered transport of emails of members who restrict spam in their networks. Bulk mailers who adhere to the anti-spam legal and best practive rules could sign a Bulk Mailer Anti-Spam Commitment (BM-ASC) and participate in the Trusted Network, too. This proposal is not welcomed by all ISPs. ®

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