Spam-Fighting Triumvirate Formed

The spam epidemic has reached global proportions, debilitating e-mail systems everywhere.
But with some muscle power from the Brits and Down Under, so has the fight against it.

The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia signed a memorandum of understanding
(MOU) to share evidence in the fight against the ever-growing problem of
spam , officials at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
announced last week.

As part of this “ground-breaking” international deal, the U.K. Office of Fair Trading
(OFT), the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the FTC will engage in
evidence exchange, information sharing to detect and investigate international spam activities
and enforcement coordination, according to U.K. ministry officials. The three agencies
will review the agreement on an annual basis, with an eye
toward expanding the scope of information- and investigation-sharing.

“With most spam coming from outside the U.K., this deal forges our
individual initiatives and puts the fight against spam on a global
footing,” said U.K. Communications Minister Stephen Timms, in a statement.
“Our countries have a long history of cooperation; together we aim to keep
the Internet a safe and enjoyable community for all users.”

The agreement is far more beneficial for Australia and the U.K., because their agencies
will have access to the enforcement arm of the United States, the country that
produces most of the spamming activity. Through a series of legislative maneuvers, the United States has
inadvertently created the largest spam-friendly haven in the world.

Last year, Congress passed Can Spam, legislation requiring unsolicited messages to contain a
legitimate opt-out mechanism. Many critics say it gives spammers a legal avenue
to put unwanted e-mails into the inboxes of
Internet users. So far, the bill has resulted in a couple of indictments — one in
March and one in
April.

The Can Spam Act gave the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforcement powers
to handle the spam problem. Since then, the FTC has been working to
define the scope of the issue, calling for
public comments on specific
details.

One response came from Congress, which called for the FTC to create a do-not-spam list, similar in scope to
the agency’s do-not-call registry. But the agency issued a report in June saying it would not support
a Do-Not-Spam e-mail registry.

Yael Weinman, a legal advisor in the FTC’s international division of
consumer protection, said the registry is a non-issue until the matter of e-mail header authentication is settled.

She said the FTC will be looking at other methods of fighting spam, notably
at a first-of-its-kind international meeting this October. The anti-spam
divisions of enforcement agencies from around the world will meet for the
first time to discuss combating the growing spam problem.

To date, there isn’t an over-reaching agreement between all foreign
agencies, though many have existing consumer protection MOUs, Weinman said.
The meetings, which take place in London, are a first step in getting everyone talking about the problem, she said.

“We’re always talking to our colleagues in other countries; we have
relationships with other countries where we have memoranda of understanding
with them relating to consumer protection. But none of those discussions,
yet, have culminated in a signed document,” she said.

Since Can Spam went into effect, the number of daily spam outbreaks has increased 43 percent
from 350,000 to 500,000, according to a recent
study. The United States
accounts for more than half of that output with 55.7 percent, which is followed by South Korea
at 10.2 percent and China at 6.6 percent. Within two years, the
report author states, spam will account for 98 percent of all e-mail.

According to the Spamhaus Project, an anti-spam site that monitors spam
activities, seven of the 10 worst spammers in the world work out of the
United States (the other three are in Russia). And American ISPs dominate
the project’s “Top 10 Worst Spam ISPs,” according to June 2004 figures.

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