Government gets tough on spam

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Tough anti-spam legislation, tabled in the House of Representatives this morning, could see spammers penalised more than $1 million a day.

The Spam Bill 2003 attempts to tackle unsolicited commercial emails that originate from Australia. The bill will apply heavy civil penalties for breaches.

It will also give the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) the power to administer penalties and formal warnings, and seek injunctions which could be enforced by the Federal Court.

The financial penalties faced by spammers who contravene the legislation would be substantial. An individual could be liable for a total of $44,000 for contraventions on a single day, while an organisation could be fined up to $220,000 in a day.

Repeat offenders would be penalised at a higher scale, up to a maximum of $220,000 by an individual and up to $1.1 million per day for an organisation.

Communications, Information and the Arts Minister Senator Richard Alston said the Bill sends a strong message to overseas-based spammers.

Alston added that the Government's action to address the spam problem would set an example for overseas jurisdictions currently considering anti-spam legislation, including the United States and Europe.

According to a statement from Alston's office, the legislation allows for the development of industry codes of practice and requires all commercial email to contain valid 'reply to' addresses, business contact information and the ability for users to opt out.

The legislation is one part of a “multi-layered strategy being pursued by Government which includes educational and public awareness programs, the promotion of anti-spam filters, industry codes and international cooperation,” according to the statement.

“While legislation on its own is not a silver bullet which will instantly stop the spam influx, it is a critical part of the solution and is the only effective way to stop spam at the source,” it stated. “Technical solutions can eliminate a lot of spam, but only after it has been sent. There is a clear need to stop it from being sent in the first place.”

Under the legislation, software used to harvest addresses and generate address lists for the purposes of sending spam would be banned. The Bill also imposes heavy penalties for harvesting email addresses and the sale or trade of harvested addresses. Courts would be able to compensate businesses that have endured spamming, while also being able to recover profits made by spammers.

The Internet Industry Association (IIA) broadly welcomed the bill. IIA CEO Peter Coroneos said the bill incorporated most major elements the industry had lobbied for, and reflected best practice standards that IIA had defined for its own members.

Coroneos said that the legislation marked the next step in the global war against spam, and put spammers on notice that their abuse of the internet was "not appreciated by Australian industry, Australian government or Australian internet users".

Senator Kate Lundy, Shadow Minister for Information Technology, also endorsed the measure to counter spam, but accused the Government of procrastinating about the spam issue for 18 months.

Lundy claimed that during the past 18 months spam has been estimated to have risen from 17 percent of all emails in February 2002, to a massive 50 percent in August 2003.

“This means it has taken almost three times as many expensive and offensive unsolicited emails clogging up their mailboxes before any action has been taken,” she said in a statement.

Lundy said Labor would analyse the detail of the legislation to ensure its effectiveness to counter spam.

T

he Bill was drafted after two public reports on the issue, extensive industry and public consultation.

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