French minister sends out spam

Unsolicited political emails fell outside guidelines for email campaigns

French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy may have fallen foul of two French laws in a political spamming incident — not a good look for the man in charge of the country's police forces.

In addition to his ministerial role, Sarkozy is also president of the UMP, the political party holding the majority in the French Parliament. To boost party recruitment, he chose to run the country's first major political recruitment campaign over the internet, sending tens of thousands of emails. The emails, signed in his name, invited the recipients to help define the party's policies for the 2007 legislative and presidential elections.

The list of addresses used were supposedly opt-in lists, bought from commercial database vendors, but as it turned out, some of the addressees hadn't opted in to such mailings. That makes sending messages to them against the law in France.

There's another twist: a law voted by Sarkozy's party legalises mass mailing, but only for commercial messages. Sending bulk political messages is not covered by this law, so such messages must only be sent to people having expressly requested to receive them — which was apparently not the case with this mailing.

Previous political mailing operations, carried out mostly by opposition parties, were addressed to lists of political activists who had signed up to receive political newsletters. Sarkozy's email went beyond that, using commercial mailing lists from third parties.

Victims of the mass mailing have filed complaints with the courts and the French Data Protection Authority.

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