Spam, the unsolicited email that plagues most internet users, will be outlawed in Europe within two years under proposals announced today.
One in a series of legislative proposals from the European Commission (EC) designed to boost ecommerce in the European Union, it will extend current data protection laws outlawing unsolicited faxes and phone calls to cover email and mobile phone messaging systems by 2002.
Effectively an update of a 1997 previous EC directive on data protection, the new proposed legislation will ensure an 'opt-in' system is adopted in all European member states and takes precedence over the EC ecommerce directive adopted earlier this year.
Under an 'opt-out' system, internet users have to register with a central agency to state that they do not want unsolicited email. Under an opt-in system, users have to register that they are willing to receive such material.
The proposed legislation has taken the decision over whether the UK should adopt an opt-in or opt-out system out of the Department of Trade and Industry's hands. The EC ecommerce directive passed earlier this year left the decision to individual member states, as some already had anti-spam legislation in place and others didn't.
Research by Benchmark has shown the cost of spam to UK business is considerable, as much as £5bn every year, with the most popular messages touting products or services. Get-rich-quick schemes, pornography and chain letters also ranked highly.
Spam differs from traditional junk mail because the receiver, rather than the sender, incurs the costs, and ISPs are forced to spend more on bandwidth to deliver it and servers to store it, as well as a complaints department to deal with irritated users. These costs are then passed on to customers.
ISPs are delighted at the news. "We have long campaigned for the publication of unsolicited email and this news is very welcome," a spokesman for the European Internet Service Provider Association told vnunet.com.
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