European Anti-Spam Law Doesn't Prompt Cheers

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - British regulations in line with a new European law banning span took effect Thursday, but campaigners said it won't do much to curb the number of junk messages reaching the inboxes of Internet users in the U.K.

"I don't think it's going to have much effect at all," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at anti-spam and anti-virus company Sophos PLC. "Most spam is being sent from outside the European Union and therefore is outside the scope of the law."

The E.U. directive, which has been approved by all 15 member countries, is an "opt-in" law, meaning that unsolicited emails will be sent only to individuals who have given prior permission.

However, the penalties under the law are determined by individual nations, and Cluley said that some countries have yet to crack down on spammers.

"There are some countries in the E.U., such as France and Germany, that haven't done anything yet," he said.

In the U.K., convicted spammers now face a maximum fine of around $8,500. The law also requires website operators to declare whether they use "cookies" or other electronic tracking devices and give users an opportunity to reject them.

There's also concern that business-to-business emails are exempt under the legislation.

George Mills, chairman of the European branch of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Emails (CAUCE), said the exemption is a huge loophole.

"If, for example, someone is offering Viagra, they can still write to everyone in a particular business, every individual in a particular firm," he said.

The experts said the U.S. Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act' or CAN SPAM, passed by the House earlier this week, is weaker than the European directive and also won't do much to curb spam. The bill, already approved by the Senate, could be signed into law by President Bush before the end of the year.

The U.S. bill is an "opt-out" one, and email users will have to notify each spammer that they don't want to receive junk email.

Mills said CAUCE research shows that just 100,000 firms sending unsolicited messages would create essentially freeze email accounts by requiring an unfeasible amount of time to opt-out of each batch of messages.

"No single person is going to be in a position to send all of these opt-outs," he said. "It will only take a small percentage of (U.S. or European) businesses to destroy the medium."

Cluley noted that on Thursday, the day the anti-spam law went into effect, he noticed no downturn in the amount of junk email landing in his inbox.

He said that global laws or treaties would be the only way to prevent spammers from hopping from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, avoiding anti-spam laws along the way.

"Spam is a global issue and needs a global solution. Many users will be experiencing more junk email than ever this Christmas, and a spam-filled 2004," Cluley said.

Mills, on the other hand, said that customer action could be the first line of defense against junk email.

"Never buy anything that's offered by spam," he said.

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