Both the United States and European Union are drafting legislation to battle the growing menace of spam.
In the US there are no fewer than nine bills under considation. Among them are the Anti-Spam Act of 2003, CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and Reduction in Distribution of Spam Act of 2003. Of all states the toughest stance is being taken by California. Under the proposed Californian Bill, any recipient of spam can sue the sender and the advertiser for $US500 per spam message. Judges have the authority to triple the fine if they find that the sender willfully violated the ban. The bill also requires the court to impose an additional $250 fee per spam judgement to help fund high-tech crime task forces throughout the state.
A key feature of Australia's legislation is an opt-in regime whereas most of the legislation proposed in the US favours an opt-out provision.
This allows for the existence and distribution of commercial e-mail as long as there is a provision for recipients to opt out of receiving further notices from that sender. That means the recipient must respond to each piece of spam to initiate the opt-out procedure which is often more work than deleting the message.
The stance taken by the 15-member European Union is much tougher with a law banning unsolicited e-mail messages being introduced next month.
The law prohibits e-mail marketers in the Union from sending their promotions to individuals unless those targeted have expressly asked to receive promotions.
International cooperation is also being sought by the EU with the European Commission calling on the US to introduce a similar ban claiming global efforts will be restricted if the US supports an opt-out system.
Convicted spammers are known to hop from one jurisdiction to another in order to continue their activities which is why international agreements are so critical, according to EU Commissioner for the Enterprise Erkki Liikanen.
"There is a growing awareness that you cannot tackle spam alone," he said. "We need to work with international partners."
"US authorities appear to be focusing only on spam that is deceptive or worse. We on the other hand believe that even harmless spam messages are a serious problem because of the enormous volume of them."
In the UK the Department of Trade and Industry has outlined a new directive effective from December 11 which includes fines against spammers.
Meanwhile, a delegation of UK Members of Parliament are heading to Washington this month to persuade US lawmakers to take a tough "opt-in" approach with the UK claiming 90 per cent of its spam comes from the US.