The Department of Trade and Industry will today open its consultation into the implementation of the EU's Electronic Communication Data Protection Directive, its main objective will be to discuss the creation of anti-spam laws.
The tide of unsolicited emails is growing rapidly, with spam comprising an estimated 42 percent of the annual total of outgoing messages according to anti-spam company Brightmail.
UK anti-spam laws will incorporate the EU's opt-in principle, technically banning the sending of bulk email without prior approval. This will considerably restrict mass-marketing campaigns by companies in the EU and US sent to both email accounts and mobile phones.
But the problem is that most junk mail comes from outside the EU. According to messaging specialists Mirapoint, 60 percent of bogus email comes from companies and individuals beyond the threshold of existing laws. Only global laws can truly prevent spam but, even then, without the support of technological advances some junk mail will still get through.
"The current state of email technology makes routine identification of senders so burdensome as to be virtually impractical," said Stephen Cobb, senior vice-president for research and education at civil liberties group ePrivacy. "Spammers send millions of messages in short burst from multiple servers located somewhere like China, through servers they have compromised at legitimate European and US companies. By the time law enforcement comes looking, the originating servers are gone, sometimes in as little as a week.
"An international agreement would be good, but without a fundamental change to email technology it would be as hard to enforce under current laws," added Cobb.
The question over who should be responsible for spam is still up for debate. PC Advisor readers place this duty on the government and its adoption of tougher regulations. Mirapoint's CEO Satish Ramachandran agrees; he feels that ISPs "can't be expected to shoulder the financial burden of spam detection" which instead must be the responsibility of governments.
One ISP that has taken action, however, is Microsoft. As well as its spam-filtering software, which stops users of its MSN service sending emails to more than 50 addresses at a time and blocks all known spammers, from 12 March Hotmail users have been restricted to sending a maximum of 100 emails per day. Previously the limit was 500.
"This change is one way we are preventing spammers from using Hotmail as a vehicle to send unwanted emails," Lisa Gurry, lead MSN product manager told the BBC.
Spam mail is growing, and despite filtering services the situation does not seem to have improved. But ePrivacy group says it has developed a blueprint for stopping spam, which should be in place by the end of 2003. "We have been talking to many of the major players over a period of several years and sense that there is an emerging consensus for action," said Cobb.
The US is currently in the process of tightening its anti-spam legislation, with several states adapting their laws so that individuals can sue spammers for up to $500 for each piece of unwanted mail received. It is unlikely the same rules will be followed here, however.