Officials at the Electoral Commission, the body set up last year to ensure fair play in politics, have warned that they are almost powerless to regulate internet-based campaigning.
Put simply, the laws on how elections are conducted have failed to keep pace with the development of how the internet is used. The result in the first few days of the campaign has been that activists, and in one case a national party, have adopted aggressive tactics such as redirecting traffic and encouraging tactical voting.
A spokeswoman told vnunet.com: "We can't take action unless an existing law is broken, and existing laws simply don't cover new media. The only sanction we have is that third parties are not allowed to spend more than £500 to engage in political campaigning."
"After each election, we produce a report on how it was conducted and all these IT issues are very likely to be looked at then," she added.
One trick has been for activists to redirect traffic heading for the website of one party to those held by another.
Visitors to lib-dems.com are greeted with statements designed to counter "misleading information put out by the Liberal Democrats", while visitors to tory-party.co.uk are pointed to the website of the Socialist Workers, and those to toryparty.co.uk are greeted by a spoof.
Other websites, such as stophague.com (a reference to the leader of the Conservatives, William Hague), votedorset.com (a UK region), and tacticalvoting.net, allow users to 'swap' their votes to maximise the number of votes cast against the Conservative candidate in marginal constituencies.
The Electoral Commission has already had to tell the Conservative Party that it can do nothing about the trio.
A spokesman for the Conservatives confirmed that they had "sought the opinion" of the Electoral Commission about the websites only to be told that the issue could not be looked at until after the election. He added that the party was "deeply unconcerned" over the whole issue.
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