Spammers' rights possible obstacle to law

AUCKLAND (10/15/2003) - Both Associate Minister for Information Technology David Cunliffe and a prominent IT policy specialist, commenting in a private mailing list, allude to possible problems reconciling anti-spam legislation with the "human right" of freedom of expression.

There are "issues", says Cunliffe, with being so restrictive on spam as to trade alleviation of an undoubted nuisance for unwarranted interference with the spammer's basic freedom to impart and receive information.

Emergence of the phrase "freedom of expression" in relation to spam from two government-connected sources almost simultaneously makes it likely that the "freedoms" of spammers will constitute a significant fly in the ointment when it comes to considering legislative remedies in New Zealand.

Cunliffe confirms that opt-in and opt-out approaches to reducing the spam nuisance are still on the table, though he is very much in favor of the opt-in route. This choice and the "freedom of speech" aspect will, Cunliffe anticipates, be thoroughly discussed with the IT industry and IT-using public along with other aspects of government's forthcoming IT strategy.

At an NZCS/ITANZ breakfast last week he referred to technology-related privacy concerns and later said these include increasingly intelligent and intrusive search engines that may spider through personal information and expose it to public access.

Asked about the apparent persistent efforts, lately through anti-terrorism legislation, to remove widely respected foundations such as the right to refuse self-incriminating information, he says government "recognizes that there is a trade-off between personal privacy and public security".

"Cybersecurity", including screening access to "inappropriate material" particularly by children, he considers an aspect of ensuring safety online and thereby narrowing the "digital divide".

"Freedom of expression does not extend to the freedom to pitch porn at 10-year-olds."

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