The European Commission will not succeed in protecting consumers against unwanted e-mail with rules proposed in Brussels this week said Ray Everett-Church, a co-founder and counsel for the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail (CAUCE), a US volunteer organisation.
The proposed so-called "Opt-out" registers are likely to have little if any effect on the flood of e-mail promoting pornography, get-rich-quick scams and products, according to Everett-Church, who professionally works as chief privacy officer at the Internet company alladvantage.com.
According to the proposal, all 15 member countries in the European Union will make a register available to consumers, in which they can register their preference not to receive unsolicited e-mail, and companies will be obliged to respect it.
If the rules, part of a revised framework for electronic commerce, are passed by the Council of Ministers later this year, all EU states will enact them.
The US experience with opt-out registers -- whether targeted at limiting direct mail, telemarketing or spam -- is not encouraging, according to Everett-Church.
"Take e-mail. It makes very little economic sense for the companies to use time in order to take people out of their list, when the cost of sending an e-mail is almost nothing," said Everett-Church.
Also, a large part of spam is attributed to companies operating on the "fringes of legality," doing all they can to avoid being traced and made accountable, Everett-Church said. "They will never use such a register."
The only effective way of protecting the consumers is to ban spam, just like unsolicited advertisements via fax are banned in the US, said Everett-Church. "Ignoring the ban costs a fine of between US$500 to $1,500 per fax received, and that helped stop the practice," he said.
However, the European Parliament voted no to a proposal banning spam in May: the vote was 137 to 266. (How individual members of the European Parliament voted can be seen at http://www.euro.cauce.org/en/vote_result.html.)
In the U.S., about eight states have already passed laws limiting spam in various ways, and laws are pending in more than a dozen states, according to Everett-Church. He expects a federal law banning spam to be passed. "Several proposals are pending on Capitol Hill," he said.
The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email can be found at http://www.cauce.org. CAUCE Counsel Attorney Ray Everett-Church can be reached at +1-510-576-6033. The EU’s web-site is at http://europa.eu.int.