US laws ‘will exacerbate spam problem’

2 July 2003 New US laws intended to control the problem of spam email will only make the matter worse, the UK’s parliamentary All Party Internet Group was told yesterday at its ‘spam summit’.

The claims were made by London-based Steve Linford, who tracks the activities of the most prolific ‘spam gangs’ and runs the Spamhaus spam filtering service.

The problem, says Linford, is that proposed US laws are based on the so-called ‘opt-out’ principle in which any organisation can send bulk email to anyone they like as long as they provide the means to opt-out of future mailings.

Such legislation will also forbid attempts to disguise where spam has been sent from. Spammers typically do this by hijacking a mis-configured mail server so that the spam appears to have come from the owner of that server, or by inserting false information into the email header — or by doing both.

However, legislation being prepared in congress will legitimise spamming and they will therefore not need to resort to such nefarious activities, believes Linford. “All the US spammers we track support [opt-out] because it means they wouldn’t have to hide any more,” he told MPs.

He added: “If the US passes an opt-out law, which I believe is likely to happen by the start of next year, the spam problem will explode. Provided they don’t use deceptive subject lines, any one of 23 million small US business could begin spamming.”

Linford is concerned that anything that helps to legitimise mass commercial emailing will encourage mainstream businesses to adopt spamming as a marketing tool.

Furthermore, many companies are considering turning to email after the success of the ‘do not call’ telemarketing registry recently set-up in the US. From October, companies will be legally obliged not to call any of the numbers in the registry, subject to a few exceptions.

Telemarketing has become so despised in the US, that the registry has been bombarded with millions of numbers in just its first few days of operation. Now, those telemarketers are considering turning to email instead.

However, Linford’s argument was rejected by James Halpert, a partner at US law firm Piper Marbury Rudnick &Wolfe, who suggested that spam was largely the work of a small number of “hacker criminals”.

The Direct Marketing Association is also in favour of opt-out, rather than the ‘confirmed opt-in laws favoured by anti-spammers.

Links: Spamhaus

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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