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EU gutless on spam

Europe can't stomach tough call on spam email

Decision makers in the EU continue to flip-flop on legislation designed to deal with spam — unsolicited commercial email. The question of whether to adopt an 'opt-in' or 'opt-out' method for people when they hand over personal information remains a moot point.

In the most recent move a committee for the European Parliament voted late on Monday to back a largely unchanged second version of a report on data protection, drafted by Italian MEP Marco Cappato, according to a statement from the EU Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

The move effectively reaffirmed its decision of three months ago to back the opt-out policy recommended in the report.

'Opting-in' to a company's mailing list requires an affirmative, physical act on the part of the potential recipient of the spam, whereas with the 'opt-out' approach a person is assumed to be a willing recipient unless they tick a box to remove themselves from a company's list.

The report made a second appearance in the Parliament after it had been effectively thrown out by the EU Council of Ministers in September, forcing it back to its Committee stage.

Monday's vote would leave it up to individual countries to decide on an opt-in or -out policy regarding unsolicited email from marketing mailing lists. But the Committee voted to recommend an opt-out amendment, that would allow subscribers to request omission from a printed or electronic directory.

Therefore, while the Committee would like to make it legal for companies to compile printed or electronic directories, it would be up to the individual member states to decide whether email solicitations without specific authorisation would be legal, a European Parliamentary spokeswoman said.

"The Parliament took a less stringent view than the Commission on spam," the European Parliamentary spokeswoman said.

The current approach to spam is fragmented in Europe, with individual countries devising their own policies. Five European countries — Finland, Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy — have passed opt-in regulations on spam and have been pushing for the EU to adopt a pan-European anti-spam law.

But it appears that there is just as much fragmentation within the EU itself, with the European Parliament and the European Commission torn over how to handle the issue.

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