Communications minister Stephen Timms yesterday announced plans to fight the growing tide of spam and give internet users more control over how their personal details are used.

The measures, which update existing laws in line with European legislation, demand marketers obtain prior consent from recipients before sending out marketing messages via text or email.

There will be new requirements for firms using cookies and similar internet tracking devices to allow users to refuse them.

The government also announced plans to extend the Telephone Preference Service to corporate subscribers from next year. This means that both businesses and individuals will be able to opt out of phone marketing.

"These regulations will help combat the global nuisance of unsolicited emails and texts by enshrining in law rights that give consumers more say over who can use their personal data," said Timms. "It's crucial that people feel safe and have confidence utilising electronic communication technologies."

Antivirus firm Brightmail has welcomed the announcement.

"Only a combination of international co-operation, legislation, education and spam blocking technology can halt the growth in spam and promote trust in the internet," said Enrique Salem, CEO of Brightmail.

But a new report from researchers at independent think tank the Hambleton Group, suggests that alleged failings of spam are hugely exaggerated and even goes so far as to suggest IT professionals are using the issue to raise the profile of their companies.

"The same puffed up anal retentives who cried wolf over the year 2000 (Y2K) are now trying to draw attention to themselves again," says the report's author Gerry Absalom.

The report also reaches the rather harsh conclusion that anyone who gets upset by spam probably isn't worth employing anyway.

The European deadline for introducing anti-spam laws is 31 October 03.