European Commission\’s new spam offensive

Spam cost EU businesses Ä2.5 billion last year, according to the European Commission which today announced its plans to wage war against the e-mail menace, through a mix of enforcement action, technical measures and consumer awareness.

Erkki Liikanen, Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society, outlined today in Brussels how the Commission is planning to address the proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail. Given the adoption last year of a directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, Member States have to transpose measures against spam into national legislation by the end of October 2003 ñ albeit critics note that the so-called ban contains significant loopholes.

As a second step, the European Commission expects a Communication on spam to be adopted in the autumn. Concrete action, it says, would focus on effective enforcement, notably through international co-operation, technical measures for countering spam, and consumer awareness.

The proposed measures would be first tested with Member States and interested parties through a workshop to be convened in October.

Erkki Liikanen said:

“We must act before users of e-mails or SMS stop using the internet or mobile services, or refrain from using it to the extent that they otherwise would”.

The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications promises a ‘ban on spam’ to individuals. It is due to be implemented across Europe by 31st October 2003.

With a limited exception covering existing customer relationships, e-mail marketing is only allowed with prior consent. This so-called ‘opt-in’ regime equally covers SMS messages and other electronic messages received on any mobile or fixed terminal.

However, the Directive gives Member States the option to ban unsolicited commercial e-mails to businesses ñ and that’s an option which the UK Government plans to reject, according to its draft implementing law which recently completed a period of public consultation.

The problem is that, while the Commission is talking about the enormous cost of spam to businesses, the UK approach might only encourage spam to company e-mail addresses.

Since much spam comes from outside the EU, international co-operation is a key element of the Commission’s response. During a visit to the US Federal Trade Commission in June, Commissioner Liikanen stressed the need for a global approach to the global problem. He also offered today to host an OECD workshop on spam early in 2004 to convene experts from around the world.