Back in February this year we publicly
declared war on spam by calling on the Australian Federal Government to follow
Europe's lead and simply outlaw it.
CAUBE (the Coalition Against
Unsolicited Bulk Email) the amount of spam on the Net increased
sixfold during 2001 - and it's gone absolutely ballistic all
Right now even the Federal
Government modestly admits that up to 20% of all emails received by
Australians are spams (reality: more like 60% to 90%). They
also admit that the volume of spam is now so bad it's causing some web servers
to buckle and fall over, threatening the infrastructure of the Net
What's worse, most of this
plague is being pushed into Australia's email in-boxes by foreign
crooks: Nigerian money scammers, pornographers, get-rich-quick con-men
and alternative health hucksters. And nearly all of these frauds live in
the USA, spamming the planet from US or Asian web servers because they can
do it from there with impunity.
No Guts - And Certainly
To their undying discredit, US authorities
have consistently refused to take any hard, truly meaningful
action against spammers.
In a country that runs by the
rule "what's good for business is good for America", US legislators continually
allow self-interest to triumph over public interest and to rule in favour
of protecting the rights of criminals above the rights of decent,
Last month the US Federal Trade
Commission - which now receives more than 10,000 forwarded spams a
day from angry US consumers who are just as fed up with spammers as we
are - undertook a token action against a handful of the more objectionable
However - shackled by the USA's
weak laws and pro-business bias - they didn't make much of a dent.
Europe Shows The Way
By contrast, the European Union has
now enacted some of the strictest privacy laws in the world.
Unlike America, Europeans maintain
that the rights of ordinary consumers supersede the rights of Big
Business and they've now effectively outlawed spam in any form (and that
includes sending unsolicited messages through your fax, SMS system, letterbox
or anywhere else that junk marketing messages might enter your life).
US lobby groups have always
said that outlawing spam in the way Europe has done is impossible.
That it would prove too costly. That it would hobble business. That it would
ruin industries. That it would lead to the end of Life As We Know It
(.....blah blah blah)
But the European Union is as
big - if not bigger - than the USA.
And they've now not only
proven that it can be done, but also shown that the excuses the US
lobbyists has been offering about why it supposedly can't be
done are utter hogwash.
NOIE Seeks Answers
Right now the National Office of
the Information Economy (NOIE) is asking Australians for their opinion
on spam and how the whole spam issue should be handled.
You can even fill out an
in about 5 minutes if you want to have your say on the matter (but do so
before April 19th, 2002).
While the intention of NOIE
is no doubt honourable, what worries us about this "public consultation"
process - and should worry you too if you loathe spam as much
as we do - is that the Federal Government seem to be acting on a few patently
false assumptions as they wrestle with formulating their approach
to the spam problem.
One false assumption is that
businesses have an inalienable right to foist their marketing information
on you, whether you want it or not. (Excuse us, but where did that idea come
Another is that the
"opt-out" system that has been tried (and which has comprehensively
failed) in the USA should be tried in Australia too.
And a third is that the
crooks behind the global spamming industry will be only too happy
to "self regulate"
If you read NOIE's online
questionnaire closely - along with background information about the public
consultation process displayed on their web site - you'll see all three of
these assumptions on clear public display.
Naturally, this fundamental
bias must raise questions about just how well (or otherwise) NOIE is
approaching the task.
Sadly, our Federal Government
tends to take its lead from the USA these days. This blinkered view means
that it also tends to overlook the far more civilised approach Europe takes
to dealing with many social ills.
All the same, NOIE will be
issuing recommendations about how Australia should to deal with spam in a
few months from now.
And - bet your
boots! - we'll be keeping you (and our other 60,000 to 80,000
monthly readers) posted.