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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Italian spammers face jail
Junk e-mails
Spam cost European companies 2.25 billion euros last year
Senders of unsolicited junk e-mails in Italy will now face jail sentences of up to three years, according to Italian media reports.

The country's privacy watchdog issued the ruling in an attempt to limit the huge amount of advertising and promotional material sent online.

Sending e-mails without the permission of the receiver is against the law in Italy.

Offenders now risk fines of up to 90,000 euros and between six months and three years in prison, if it is proved that they did it to make a profit.

The ruling follows estimates by the European Commission that spam e-mails cost EU companies approximately 2.25bn euros in lost productivity last year.

They are effectively stealing money from their victims by wasting their time
Conor Santiford, Ireland
EU legislation banning unwanted e-mail is due to come into force on 31 October, but correspondents say that, given the global nature of the internet, it may have little effect.

Most spam comes from the United States and China, and will be outside its reach.

The EU legislation leaves it to each member state how to enforce the legislation, as long as the enforcement is "effective".

It is hosting an OECD workshop on the problem in January in an attempt to boost co-operation.

The European Commission says that between one-third and 50% of all e-mails sent or received are now junk or spam.

The problem is being compounded by virus writers using similar tactics to spammers to spread their malicious creations.

We asked you to tell us whether you thought spammers deserved jail. Here are some of your replies.

Yes, if they are prolific spammers than they deserve jail for theft at the very least. Spam e-mails are frustrating, and at times downright disturbing. What if a child were to receive e-mails about viagra or pornography? If I want their services, I'll go look for them on Google, they do NOT need to come to me.
Otana, USA

It does not matter one bit what the EU does with its anti-spam laws because spam can be sent from any location. The real problem is the opt-in/opt-out fight. Until EVERY country has an opt-in law we will have spam. By the way, the US is looking at passing an opt-out law for spam. If they do this you will NEVER solve the spam problem because every US company will be able to spam without ANY fear of the law as long as they allow you to opt-out of the list.
Warren, UK

Any one found spamming should have their own personal home address and phone number made widely public. I'd gladly pay the long distance charges to make 50 calls to these jerks everyday, all day. Once they've been sufficiently harrassed at home they might feel the anger that they willingly cause to others.
Kevin Donnelly, Canada

A simple solution - first 100 (200, 1,000, whatever works best) e-mails per month are free, then charge per e-mail. this will leave legitimate customers unaffected, and will destroy the very economic foundation of spam.
Alex, USA

Technology, not far removed from the way Google ranks web pages, can be used to "vote" internet servers as sources of SPAM. This information can be shared amongst internet backbone servers to block all data originating in those "blacklisted" servers. The problem of "internet rubbish" will grow exponentially since it has no resource cost and the "disposal cost" is borne by the poor user. Governments and academic institutions should contribute to this technology development.
A Bright Spod, South Africa

Jail might help but lawmakers would first have to enact legislation that would give police the authority to go after these individuals. I would like to see them also sentenced to extensive community service where they perform volunteer work teaching us how to combat other spammers and those who create and spread destructive viruses around the world.
Dr. Victor N. Ogilvie, United States

One person's spam is another person's steak
Sandy Starr, UK
Not necessarily, otherwise we would also have to consider jailing normal businesmen mailing out promotional literature to potential clients. Virus originators, however, should receive 10 years in jail. The view that they are simply naughty bright students is childish and fails to send a strong message to these criminals THAT THEIR ACTIONS CAUSE GREAT STRESS AND GRIEF IN THE MAJORITY OF CASES.
John, Canada

I am glad that something is done to reduce at least a bit of the unbelievably huge amount of advertising that any italian citizen is put through in his/her daily living. Have you ever tried to watch an italian tv programme from start to end? Try, and you'll know what I am talking about: it's hilarious! You'd be amazed: there are something like 7-8 mins of ads every 10-12 mins of broadcasting, and these are primetime numbers!! I still think though that jail is a harsh solution. A fine is fair, and another string of regulations for the Italians to avoid!!
Paolo, UK

The grounds for jailing spammers are shaky at best. The kinds of laws that are being drafted to deal with spam tend to rely on universal definitions of the terms 'unsolicited', 'bulk' and 'commercial' to specify what it is that they are outlawing. But spam does not lend itself to the kind of universal definitions required by law; it is a problem that we all experience differently. Depending on your profession, your personal disposition and the way you use your email, spam can be anything from a minor inconvenience to a crippling burden. And there's no reason why the same email can't be irritating spam to one person and interesting and legitimate to another person. One person's spam is another person's steak, and vice versa. Rather than adopting a siege mentality and passing draconian new laws, we should be raising our expectations of how technology can combat spam and grant individual choice to the internet user.
Sandy Starr, UK

I work for an IT firm and I can tell you that spam sucks up a lot of our human resources so it is costing us money that could be spent elsewhere in the company. In that sense, spammers are stealing money from us so they should be treated like the thieves they are. The other thing that really worries me is the proliferation of porn spam with explicit photographs that leave absolutely nothing to your imagination. I am very worried about the effect this has on children and impressionable teenagers, especially young males whose ideas about sexuality are just developing. I think spammers who send this kind of porn indiscriminately should be dealt with in the same manner as merchants who sell pornography to minors. It is illegal and they should be prosecuted.
Melynda Jarratt, Canada

Spammers should not be jailed, there are far worse crimes being perpetuated on the internet that should take priority. People should be more careful where they leave their email address. I use email extensively both at home and work, but as I take the right precautions I never receive unsolicited emails and any advertising I do get are from known sources who will stop if requested.
Phil, England

E-mail is just another channel of communication. Anything which interferes with this smacks of repression. What is spam to me may be a perfectly legitimate means of conveying information to you. Who is to decide ? Does Italian law prohibit the sending of ordinary mail without the sender's permission? If so, however do companies ever get paid for their goods and services?
Peter Shaw, South Africa

Your email box is as public/private as your physical letter box. How much unsolilicited junk mail do you receive from pizza companies, estate agents, builders, cleaners etc.. Do they deserve a prison stretch as well? If you don't like spam, don't use e-mail.
James Hound, UK

Why not arrest/fine/jail the companys actually using the Spammers services ? All spam is advertising, all services/products have to paid for. Trace the payments - catch the companys selling this stuff and stop them. No people prepared to use the spammers means no spam. Simple.
Adrian Jackson, England

There is a very simple way to stop spam. Stop buying the things promoted by spam. There are just enough idiots out there who believe they really are buying viagra at warehouse price, or whatever is being sold, to make it worthwhile. If spam didn't pay, it would stop almost overnight. I even get spam from people who sell anti-spam products. Go figure.
Marco van Beek, Great Britain

The spammer should receive fines and jail sentences if they send messages to e-mail addresses listed in a national registry of individuals not wanting them. The spammers should have to pay to receive the list from the registry to defray the cost of maintaining it. We're doing this now on the state and national levels with phone numbers.
Robert Potty, USA

The root of the problem is that spam defies the laws of economics - there is no marginal cost. It costs essentially nothing to add an extra 100 million addresses to your spam. The only solution is, therefore, a charge per e-mail. They can spoof their domains, but they have to pay a carrier at some point, and a charge of 1 cent per mail won't bother the rest of us while crippling them. Jail? Certainly. I read recently that 90% of spam is sent by 200 "known" individuals. Why are these 200 still on the streets?
David Pugh, Norway

Investigations should be carried out into the companies whose products and services are actually being advertised in the spam. Spammers themselves are difficult to trace, but the products and services being offered of course carry a contact phone number or website address (otherwise how would the few mugs get in contact with them to give them their money?). There needs to be an internationally recognised list of companies who advertise their services through the use of spam. A list of companies which should either be the targets of investigations and legal action into their working practices, or if not, at least to be boycotted by consumers.
Chris Melville, UK

Definetely YES. The problem are, as pointed out in the article, are the Chinese. Most of the spam I get is from there. What is the sense of spam? I delete all the messages before even reading them but unfortunately the number of messages has increased. Yesterday, they even tried to send a virus. These people have to be put behind bars and the users have to get means to fight back. As of now I don't have any means of fighting back.
Brian, USA

Our female staff are deluged by offensive and often pornographic advertising. Even our general enquiries mailbox which never sends emails is continuously hit with dubious spam and we've had to assign this mailbox to a male member of staff to stop upsetting a female administrator. The lack of choice over whether to accept this intrusion is exploited by the spammers for commecial gain and they should face stiff penalties for the offence they cause.
Michael Knapp, UK

Spam will remain a problem until 'Internet II'. It is a fundamental weakness of the over-trusting mail handling protocols that allows spoofing of email addresses, servers, ip addresses, senders and recipients. The best and probably only way to avoid seeing spam is to maintain a 'white list' of good email addresses and refuse all others.
Mark Urquhart-Webb, US

To James (British) Japan: How are we supposed to know if "there is a valid remove function"? Don't you realise that MOST of the opt-out options merely confirm that your email address is live and result in even greater amounts of spam being sent to you???
Ray, UK

There is a difference between spam and genuine internet marketing. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater? Companies like mine offering genuine business services to internet merchants invariably try to contact prospective buyers online. We always put the company name and contact info and have researched the prospect prior to sending...I hate being accused of 'spamming' but how else am I to stimulate business?
Jan, US/UK

Prison isn't just a way society extracts justice and administers punishment. It is also a deterent aimed at others who are committing or intending to commit the same crime. In many instances fines are merely considered a cost of doing business. For laws against spamming to be effective, send a few spammers to jail. I think the other spammers will get the message that crime doesn't pay.
Hal Brown, USA

No, but they definitely deserve a good spanking. Though annoying, for the most part the only cost incurred by its transmission is the network bandwidth and loss of time of the recipient. One question we might ask is why we don't receive as much postal spam-mail? Therein lies one solution - charging money for e-mails (and implicitly network bandwidth). This in my opinion runs counter to the principles on which the internet was formed and would render it useless. The Italian solution is draconian and shows a poor understanding and adaptability of society to technology. Personally, I don¿t mind glancing at the spam e-mails that aren¿t caught by filters (which I now identify purely from the subject line) if it means a lifetime of free e-mails for me which bring me closer to friends and family.
Skeeball, USA

Yes I think every country should impose the same rule. It is like an intruder coming into your home without permission, so the same penalty should apply. While reading this article I must have had at least 20 interruptions. Very annoying to say the least.
Vi, Canada

Yes the spammers should be hit where it hurts, but the internet community could also do much more to stop it. At present the servers that move e-mails around the world are completely open. Better control of where e-mails come from could help.
Ben Coffman, UK

No, our jails are already too full and should be reserved for people who are a genuine danger to society, not those who are simply a nuisance. Courts should be able to impose crippling financial penalties on spammers. Hitting their wallets is a language that they will understand!
Phil Clarke, UK

Good idea, but it won't work. They'll just flee offshore to places that don't have anti-spam laws. The economic model for spam is just too good to miss. They send millions of e-mails, that costs a small amount of line/isp time and a few mug punters buy the crap they're touting. The punters who buy from the spammer fund the next round of spam. To cure spam you need to make it cost more to the spammer. You need to hit the ISPs that allow open mail relays, you need to hit the ISPs that give these folks the internet connection they need. Fining 90,000 euros and six months to three years in gaol won't stop these folks - if you can catch them.
Dougie Lawson, Basingstoke, UK

I now kill all e-mail coming from China, Taiwan and Korea as a matter of course, and am going to add Italy to the list. Nations that tolerate spammers (and "rogue" ISPs) will find that their legitimate businesses are going to suffer as a result.
Dirk Bruere, England

Action needs to be targetted more towards rogue ISPs than at individuals, who are nigh on impossible to trace
Nigel, Australia
Spam is the modern version of the door-to-door salesman - except that they get the chance to shove an electronic foot in EVERY door, whether it's wanted or not. Even legitimate companies who have sought to market through e-mail now find that difficult because of the work of spammers. It is an invasion of privacy in my opinion and should be punished - including jail time, if the offence is severe.
Michael, USA

Yes, spammers do deserve jail. I am fed up to the back teeth of wading through hundreds of messages each day. No, I do not want to copy DVD's with one click, No, I do not want my penis enlarged, and I don't even have a septic tank! However, I suspect this law will be extremely hard to enforce and therefore will have little overall effect.
Robert, Germany

I spend 7/8th's of my time getting rid of spam before I can even read my own e-mail. I do not see why unsolicited mass e-mailing should be condoned. Moreover, I recently had a virus on my computer which was allowed spammers to hijack it. This is antisocial, and criminal. I see no reason why people should not be punished for it. This will send a message for people not to break rules like this
Alwyn Mziray, USA/Tanzania

Action needs to be targetted more towards rogue ISPs than at individuals, who are nigh on impossible to trace.
Nigel, Australia

I think that it is a fair punishment for the people that send out spam. I have seen spam sent from companies that have an opt-out option on their pages, but even when selecting the opt-out option, your e-mail address is still used for spamming. I have my own website and when signing up to any site I use their site name as part of the e-mail that I give them E.g:- nameofsignupsite.com@mysitename.co.uk. Any email I receive from spammers can be easily traced back to the site that I gave my e-mail address to. I think the people that sell on the e-mail addresses should also be brought to justice, without them there would be less spam. Leaving me more time to read the e-mails that do count and not having to quickly delete the viagra, genital enlargment and other pronographic e-mails recieved each and every day.
Rob, UK

Indeed, spammers should get the slammer
John Kelly, Japan
Yes, we do need to put a stop to all this junk. It is impossible to run a business while getting dozens of tricky unsolicited rubbish e-mails. Let's stop it somehow.
Aberto Musacchio, Italy

They are effectively stealing money from their victims by wasting their time. All the lost productivity equates to real lost income.
Conor Santifort, Ireland

All spammers should be executed. Should I hit send 50 times?
Dale Rowe, England

There is nothing wrong with receiving unsolicited advertisements as long as they are labelled as such and that there is a valid remove function. Maybe a modified protocol for it. The kind of spam I find annoying is the hidden sender id especially on cell phones, where the recipient has to pay for the data. This kind of spamming should definately carry a prison term.
James (British) Japan

Jail? Too soft an option in my book! The aggro caused by these two bit profiteers is a nightmare - I have to manage several accounts for people and the amount of junk is unreal. It's time-consuming, often offensive and it is killing the internet for the majority of real users out there. I say chop their hands off so they can't use the mouse and keyboard!
Wayne Charlton, Netherlands

Indeed, spammers should get the slammer. I've had to change my email address several times but they just keep coming... those damn spammers. Lock em' up I say!
John Kelly, Japan

When people are subjected to advertising that they have little or no control over it should be dealt with, especially when that advertising is as intrusive and disgusting as the stuff that comes through e-mail.
Helen, France, normally UK

Please jail these people and take them out of the loop. They make being on the internet a misery. They should recieve beween three and five years in prison. Rising if they persist.
John More, United Kingdom

Yes. The real problem with spam it that it is not directed. I spend enormous amounts of time deleting spam from my machine. That is a theft of my time. Theft is an offence. Ergo: spammers should face jail
Brian Thorogood, UK

Everybody is focusing on the wrong issue. Sending unsolicited email, while it's annoying, should not be illegal but should be covered by codes of conduct in the same way that telemarketing calls or junk mail are. Forging headers or hijacking other people's machines to send it, though, is fraud or theft and should be treated as such, ie. as a serious criminal offence.
Rolf Howarth, UK

Surely the question is, what would stop spammers from operating? Prison is one option, but for any real effect such laws need to apply in the countries where spamming is most seriously carried out, i.e., the US and China. I think applying a significant charge for internet and email use, so that it becomes economically unattractive to spam, is finally going to be the one option that wil work. However, if in US/China we can devise the mechanisms and shape the law so that we can easily catch and convict the spammers - then yes, let's lock 'em up.
Adam Thomson, Belgium

Jail? no...fines? definitely. Or, just make an exclusive email recieving list and it won't be an issue :)
Mick Shehan, USA

Jail is too good for spammers. But surely this law should be extended to unsolicited commercial paper mail and telesales phone calls too. Why is wasting people's time by sending junk e-mail to sell double glazing punishable by 3 years in jail but wasting people's time by phoning them to sell double glazing isn't?
Rob, UK

Spam will never stop until system administrators and home users alike learn to patch their systems properly, closing up the open relays which allow this junk to be sent anonymously, and the black-hat ISPs are forced to enforce their own acceptable use policies. There needs to be a clear, unified message from all countries that e-mail marketing must be verifiable opt-in only and that anything else is entirely unacceptable, and the law must be tightened and, more importantly, enforced, in this regard.
Mike Gray, UK

I think jailing someone for sending garbage e-mail maybe a little bit on the excessive side. However, they could do with some fines.
Amir Farahani, usa

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