Sue spammers, Microsoft tells Government

Antispam czar suggests hitting mass mailers in the pocket

Microsoft's antispam czar, Ryan Hamlin, was in New Zealand last week for lobbying talks with Ministry of Economic Development officials and ISP industry representatives.

Interviewed by Computerworldin Auckland before heading to Wellington, Hamlin said he was here not to sell a technology solution but to put forward Microsoft's position on spam, phishing and identity theft issues, as well as learn about the situation in New Zealand.

Hamlin, whose official title at Microsoft is general manager of technology care and safety, was tasked by company chairman Bill Gates to lead the software developer's "War on Spam" campaign, which was launched two years ago.

He is the man behind much of Microsoft's efforts to combat email and online abuse in general. This includes championing Microsoft's SenderID, which is built around the SPF (Sender Policy Framework) address anti-forgery technology as well as publicising educational advisories for end users, such as the unintentionally hilarious guide to "1337sp33k".

According to Hamlin, New Zealand isn't too late with its legislative efforts to battle spam. On the contrary, it puts the country in a position to learn from earlier overseas efforts such as the US CAN-SPAM act, and UK and Australian antispam laws.

However, Hamlin's message to the Government is that antispam legislation has to recognise what Microsoft terms "PEBR" — pre-existing business relations. In its submission to the MED on proposed antispam law, Microsoft says the current draft needs to improve on the PEBR aspect.

The key to battling spam, Hamlin says, is not so much whether to adopt a policy of "opt-in" — gaining permission before sending commercial email — or "opt-out" — allowing the sending of unsolicited commercial email but requiring senders to respect recipients' wishes to opt out of further messages.

Instead, Microsoft's position is that it's more important to ensure that there are legal mechanisms in place that hurt spammers financially if they use deceptive methods such as address forgery and unauthorised access to networks and hosts on them. The recourse in law should be extended to ISPs and private entities, Hamlin says, and not just be reserved for government enforcers such as the Department of Internal Affairs and the Commerce Commission.

Microsoft has had good success in suing spammers, Hamlin says. He points to the recent US$7 million (NZ$10 million) settlement that Scott Richter of OptinRealRealBig agreed to pay to the company and says other spammers he has spoken now would not go into the unsolicited email business again, because the legal risks have become too great.

A spokesman for the Minister of Communications, David Cunliffe, confirmed Hamlin's meeting with MED officials but didn't go into further details.

The spokesman says that when Parliament reopens, the Government, if it remains in power, may bring Cunliffe's antispam bill forward and have it set down for a first reading. After the first reading, the Bill will be referred to a Select Committe which would then call for submissions that interested parties such as Microsoft could provide, the spokesman says.

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