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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 07:10 GMT 08:10 UK
UK laws are failing to deter spam
By Jane Wakefield
BBC News technology reporter

Screengrab of Spamhaus website
Spamhaus is leading the fight against spammers
UK spam laws are failing to stop spammers, say campaigners.

According to anti-spam organisation Spamhaus, loopholes in UK law render legislation useless in the fight against spammers.

The majority of spam originates from the US but there are a handful of hardcore UK-based spammers.

Since the law came into force over a year ago no UK spammers have been fined or prosecuted.


The power of the Information Commissioner is sadly limited although he is calling for greater powers
Office of the Information Commissioner

Internet service provider AOL is becoming frustrated by the lack of effective anti-spam laws in the UK.

"While the volume of spam originating in the UK may be lower than many countries, strong anti-spam legislation sends the right signal," said a spokesman for AOL.

"We would like more legal avenues in the UK to hit spammers where it really hurts - in the pocket," he said.

The problem lies in loopholes which effectively give spammers the right to spam any address in the UK, said Steve Linford, who heads up Spamhaus.

"British law allows spammers to spam business addresses and it is up to spammers to determine whether an address is a private one or a business one," he told the BBC News website.

"Apparently the Department of Trade and Industry was told that British businesses wanted spam, although we have never heard of any," he said.

The job of enforcing the spam law falls to the Office of the Information Commissioner, which admits that it finds it hard to deal with the problem.

"It is hard to prove anything because it is difficult to track spammers down. The power of the Information Commissioner is sadly limited although he is calling for greater powers," said a spokesperson.

Even if the Information Commissioner manages to track a UK-based spammer down, the penalty of fines up to 5,000 is not harsh enough thinks Mr Linford.

"Some spammers make that amount in a day," he said.

UK spammers account for less than 2% of all junk e-mails with the lion's share of spam coming from the US.

Australian example

Mr Linford feels US law is as ineffective as that in the UK due largely, he says to the fact that the US Congress has been influenced by the pro-spam direct marketing lobby.

When it comes to prosecuting spammers stateside, network providers have been forced to use local state laws instead.

In Virginia, where there are tough anti-spam laws, spammer Jeremy Jaynes was recently sentences to nine years in prison for sending ten million junk e-mails each day.

Another spammer was sued by AOL for $7m in damages. The firm would like similar powers in Britain.

"The government might want to consider an extension of the trespass law to enable network providers to sue spammers in the UK," said an AOL spokesman.

View of Australia
Australian spammers have largely shut up shop

For Mr Linford, the best example of effective spam law lies in Australia, where threats to impose huge fines on spammers have virtually eliminated Australian-originated junk mails.

By contrast, unsolicited e-mails in the US increased by 10% following the introduction of its anti-spam laws.

Spamhaus estimates that by the summer of 2006 spam will account for 95% of all e-mails sent and the problem will not be alleviated until the US acts to toughen its laws.

"Until America makes changes, everyone will still be plastered with spam," said Mr Linford.

The Department of Trade and Industry told the BBC News website that UK law was currently under review.

"The DTI is continuing in its efforts to address the problems caused by spam. There is a regular dialogue with a wide range of industry, including internet service providers, with the aim of encouraging better co-operation on the issue of how to tackle spam and deal with spammers," it said in a statement.

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