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Although the United States is proactive in both inhibiting spam volumes and prosecuting those who send spam, what about the rest of the world? Spam is a global epidemic that affects countries from Australia to Zimbabwe, but just where do other countries stand legally on the matter of spam and spammers? This is a very important subject for not only local citizens to understand but for spammers as well.
For example, if I were to send 10 million e-mail spams, the likelihood is that I could send at least one message to every country in the world, where each spam I send would fall into the destination country’s legal jurisdiction. At the end of my spam run, I could find that I have warrants for my arrest in six different countries, and if I ever visited these countries, I could face immediate prosecution. With one keyboard stroke and a simple e-mail, I could effectively break hundreds of different laws around the world, simultaneously.
Although spam is a global epidemic, it seems that only a few countries have taken the steps to directly address, identify, and give prosecuting power against spammers. Countries such as Russia, India, and Brazil all have identified that spam is a national problem and are looking to their governments to implement the required laws against spam. However, right now, spam is not illegal in any of these countries. Stealing a list of e-mail contacts would be considered illegal, and using insecure proxy servers to send spam would also break laws on unauthorized computer access, but the act of sending spam is legal in almost every country.
Japan stands out as another country that has taken the initiative to prevent spam. Japan’s law are very similar to the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act—any unsolicited e-mail needs to be labeled as spam or promotional information, and any attempt to be removed from a mailing or distribution list must be obeyed. Failure to obey the Japanese law can incur up to a 500,000-yen fine. Interestingly, the Japanese law was required due to the large number of cell phones that are capable of receiving e-mail. Every day Japanese consumers were receiving hundreds of online-dating and match-making spams sent to their cell phones, costing users significant amounts in cell phone usage bills—a situation that quickly grew out of control.
Dating spam is the largest types of spam sent in Japan, making up 80 percent of all spam received. This is paradoxical to the Western world, where product and financial spam are the largest sellers, and shows how different nations treat spam and marketing differently. In addition, the Japanese law does not include any jail time, because Japan understands that although spam may be annoying, it is not the end of the world, since by pressing Delete you can remove spam.
Although the European Union does not have direct antispam legislation, it does have newly implemented data privacy laws that protect recipients against unwanted e-mail and address ways that marketing companies can collect their personal data. Under Directive 2002/58/EC (www.spamlaws.com/docs/2002-58-ec.pdf), these laws, although not directly targeting spam, have laid the groundwork for a global European antispam directive. The European Union is treating CAN-SPAM as a test bed, and it’s possible that a global law will be passed against the delivery of unsolicited e-mail in a few years, once CAN-SPAM has the various wrinkles ironed out.
The United Kingdom, however, is once again behind the United States and the U.S. Congress, with its own antispam law, launched on December 11, 2003. British law now makes sending unsolicited e-mail illegal; anyone caught sending spam can face a fine up to 5,000, although no jail time is associated with the crime. Conditions of the law are identical to those of the CAN-SPAM Act, with the focus on making certain the recipient has the ability to opt out of the marketing onslaught. Britain’s act, however, has one subtle flaw: You are fully within the boundaries of the law to send spam to British firms and businesses, and only personal e-mail accounts are off-limits. This reverse logic seems obviously flawed, since the reason most countries try to ban spam is because of the financial damage it causes companies in terms of processing large amounts of junk e-mail. Britain seems to have taken the reverse of this outlook and is attempting to stop the “social damage” of making British citizens delete the spam.
Surprisingly, Italy is another country that is leading the way with its own antispam laws, pushing the limits the directives the European Union set down. In late 2003 Italy imposed tough regulations against spam and spammers. If caught, a spammer faces a fine up to 90,000 euros and a possible prison term of three years. It’s another country that has adopted what is now becoming the generic definition of spam around the world: unsolicited marketing or promotional e-mails, containing no method to opt out and often containing deceptive or misleading content.
|Notes from the Underground ...|| |
Although worldwide spam laws are currently infantile in nature and no police body is set up to enforce or monitor such data, the laws’ primary purposes are to give legal power over spammers. Power in court allows the private sector to do the hard work of tracking down and catching a spammer and using “e-courts” to sue or press criminal actions against them. The laws are certainly young, and only time will tell if they will become effective.
The FTC recently suggested that bounties should be placed on notorious spammers, much like the recent bounties Microsoft placed on virus and worm authors. Once antispam laws are in place, bounties become legal to issue. This sends a very strong message to spammers: keep quiet and be careful; you might have no financial problems, but many of your friends sure could do with $50,000.
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