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ISPs need to take the lead in the fight to curtail the nuisance caused by spam, according to a report by a UN agency this week.

The influential International Telecommunication Union (ITU) says legal efforts to identify and prosecute spammers are all well and good, but can only hope to have a limited impact because they tie up more resources than many nations can afford to commit to tackle the problem.

The ITU is calling on ISPs to draw up enforceable codes of conduct that will mean service providers take a tough line in enforcing policies against any customer caught spamming, the Financial Times reports. Furthermore, ISPs should agree only to enter into peering (traffic exchange) arrangements with service providers who also take a firm stance against junk mail. "So far, existing anti-spam laws have had little effect as most laws target spammers, not the ISPs that carry spam," ITU regulatory reform unit head Doreen Bogdan told the FT.

Only 32 (mostly Western) countries have anti-spam legislation and just a third of nations have any body responsible for fighting spam. Worldwide legislation is needed in order to prevent safe havens for spammers, but only co-ordinated action by service providers has the potential to bring spam - reckoned to account for 70 per cent of all email traffic - to heel, the ITU concludes.

Many ISPs have codes of conduct that prohibit spam already. The ITU argues that the industry as a whole would benefit from a code of conduct that held less responsible ISPs accountable via what it describes as "managed self-regulation". The report was launched during the ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference in Doha, Qatar this week. ®

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