Swain promises more for spammers

New Zealand representatives are "actively working" with international bodies to improve at least the chance of detecting the sources of spam, alongside their work to mitigate other abuses of the internet, says IT minister Paul Swain.

New Zealand representatives are “actively working” with international bodies to improve at least the chance of detecting the sources of spam, alongside their work to mitigate other abuses of the internet, says IT minister Paul Swain.

Swain was enlarging on his previous remarks on anti-spam law (Swain: no spam law in offing).

Inquiries with IT managers and users last month confirmed that for many of them spam is a serious problem, consuming between 20 and 30 minutes of each working day -- an implied considerable cost to the economy.

“New Zealand is actively working in fora such as the OECD, the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) and APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation), which are co-ordinating international approaches to matters such as consumer protection, privacy, internet security, intellectual property protection and cybercrime,” Swain says.

“One of the areas under consideration is ensuring that whois databases provide accurate information about domain name registrants and internet routing information. Both of these are relevant to ensuring that those distributing offensive material by spamming or other undesirable activities can be tracked. Technical solutions are also being sought through work being undertaken by the Internet Engineering Task Force and ITU working groups."

But Swain still sees “a number of serious problems” in framing workable laws to stop the nuisance.

“There is, for example, the question of how to define what constitutes unsolicited commercial email," he says.

Prominent anti-spammer Alan Brown, commenting for a Computerworld feature on the subject last year, suggested "commercial" is an unnecessary qualifier: " 'The end of the world is nigh' or 'vote for Joe Bloggs' are just as much spam as 'buy my widgets'," he said (see Tracking the source).

Says Swain: "While most people would have an intuitive understanding of what spam is, defining this in law in such a way that it would be possible to bring a successful prosecution in a criminal court is not a simple matter. Framing effective and enforceable sanctions would also be very difficult. And, of course, there is the problem that most spam originates outside of our jurisdiction, which means that an anti-spam law would not provide an effective shield for New Zealand residents.”

Swain says while he appreciates spam is a serious nuisance and a growing cost for many internet users, he doesn't believe believe framing "ineffective" laws is the best way forward.

"There are measures such as filtering of email which provide a partial solution in the short term and there is the expectation that international co-operation will provide better solutions in the longer term.”

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