European Parliament ministers have voted against a ban on unsolicited email, called spam, delivering a blow to the hundreds of ISPs and thousands of consumers that were hoping to rid their email boxes of junk mail for good.
Despite a last minute plea by UK Liberal Democrat MEP Graham Watson to completely ban spamming, the European Parliament today voted in favour of a system that requires bulk emailers to clearly identify their messages and gives consumers the chance to opt-out of emailing lists.
However, a further amendment that would have outlawed the practice of harvesting huge numbers of email addresses from websites and newsgroups - a common way of compiling emailing lists - failed to win support.
Watson, representing Somerset and North Devon, said spam is a nuisance that is costing businesses in the UK and Ireland around five billion pounds a year. Watson said he himself received 42 unwanted emails last week.
A spokesman for the European ISP Association (EuroISPA) told VNU Newswire that he was disappointed, but not completely suprised by the result. However, he said he was suprised by the vote against the harvesting ammendment.
"I can't understand why any MEP felt the need to vote against that," he said.
MEPs were voting today for their preferred solution for tackling spam from a range of suggested amendments to the European Commissions Framework for Electronic Commerce proposal, published last November, following a preliminary vote last week.
Under the system approved today, consumers that did not want to receive spam would be able to register their details on an opt-out list that bulk emailers would be obliged to respect. The rule would be governed on a country by country basis.
ISPs had been backing a proposal to eliminate spam by preventing mailings to end users unless they have first signed up for mailing lists - an opt-in scheme. EuroISPA recently submitted a petition to the European Parliament backing an opt-in scheme, signed by 500 ISPs and 23,800 consumers.
However, many MEPs, as well as direct marketing organisations, have urged in favour of opt-out schemes, arguing that by clearly identifying spam messages users are spared the inconvenience of reading them. ISPs argue that by the time the message has reached the user, the damage has been done because Internet time must be paid for.
Reacting to today's decision, EuroISPA said opt-out schemes would be good but only if they work. Previous attempts at opt-in schemes in the US have fallen flat, it said.
EuroISPA said it would "keep up the pressure" and will be presenting various issues around the subject to a European Council working group in June.
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