EU calls for tougher stance on spam

28 Nov 2006

EU member states are not doing enough to tackle the problems of spam, spyware and malicious software, the European Commission has said. This is despite EU legislation banning spam that dates back to 2002.

In a policy document released yesterday, the commission urged national authorities to start ensuring that companies have proper filtering policies. It also called for prosecution for those involved in illegal online activities as well as ensuring that those fighting the spam problem are sufficiently resourced.

Estimates of the extent of unsolicited email vary widely. The commission itself quoted a figure that ranged the volume of spam as a percentage of total email traffic at between 54pc and 85pc. Other analysts believe the figure may be higher still. Locally, data from IE Internet has shown that for most of this year more than half of all business emails sent to addresses in Ireland were spam.

This does not necessarily translate into the volume of spam that most people receive, as filtering technology would stop some — though not all — of this traffic before it reaches their inboxes.

The commission said that the spate of unsolicited and in some cases fraudulent emails is seriously hampering the growth of legitimate online business. Viviane Reding, the Commissioner for Information Society and Media, said: “It is time to turn the repeated political concern about spam into concrete actions to fight spam.”

Reding pointed to the example of authorities in the Netherlands who have cut domestic spam by 85pc. “I’d like to see other countries achieving similar results through more efficient enforcement,” she added. “I will revisit this issue again next year to see whether additional legislative measures against spam are required.”

As well as urging governments to take action, the commission’s policy document also calls on industry to co-operate fully by applying proper filtering policies and assuring good online commercial practices in line with data protection law. In Finland, such filtering measures reduced spam from 80pc to 30pc.

In Ireland, the only company to have been successfully prosecuted so far under anti-spam legislation had been sending unsolicited messages by phone, not email.

By Gordon Smith