The activities of Net Harbour Pty Ltd, an IT services company linked to the son of Prime Minister John Howard, has been placed under investigation by the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) after allegedly sending tranches of unsolicited bulk e-mail on behalf of a number of Liberal Party candidates including the Prime Minister.
Responding to a series of written questions from Computerworld, ACA executive manager for consumer and universal service obligations, John Haydon today confirmed the ACA would investigate claims made by Labor's shadow IT minister Kate Lundy that Net Harbour had breached both the spirit and the letter of the Spam Act.
"The ACA will complete its investigation and will respond to Senator Lundy," Haydon said.
Both the Prime Minister and his son Tim Howard have consistently argued bulk e-mails sent by Net Harbour to electoral constituents on behalf of Liberal Party members did not break the law, because political parties and their appointed agents are specifically exempted from the Spam Act as non commercial organisations.
However, the way in which enterprises collect e-mail addresses to send mail is now under scrutiny, with the ACA saying such exemptions do not extend the use of address harvesting by either private organizations or political parties.
"It is illegal to use address harvesting software or address lists compiled through the use of address harvesting software, regardless of application," Haydon said.
Yesterday, Lundy told Computerworld she had formally written to ACA acting chair Bob Horton demanding Net Harbour be investigated over Spam Act breaches, and particularly a determination whether the firm's address collection methods utilized US campaign-style address harvesting software or methods.
A spokesman for Net Harbour insisted his company had not breached the Spam Act in any way, but refused to comment any further on its work on the basis the firm simply did not comment on "commercial arrangements".
John Howard's office had not returned calls requesting comment at time of press.