MPs give e-lobbying thumbs down

E-campaigning, when voter or protest groups embark on mass e-mail campaigns to their MPs, has been slammed as an ineffective, network-damaging political tool.

Both Members of Parliament (MPs) and IT lobbyists reject it as a political tool because it creates too much network havoc and could potentially land the senders in hot water.

Fearful of being overwhelmed by e-mails from constituents, a spokesman for IT Minister Richard Alston said there is a big difference between lobbying and spamming.

While an MP welcomes correspondence from constituents, he said, bulk e-mail campaigns are not a form of contact, but damaging with the potential to crash the network.

However, e-mail correspondence is increasing with a spokeswoman from the Attorney General Daryl Williams' office claiming there has been a significant increase in electronic communication in the last couple of years. However, e-mail campaigns are still not a reality in Australia, she said.

It is a different matter though in the UK where MPs are abandoning e-mail due to concerted e-mail campaigns that have proved extremely damaging. The highly influential House of Commons Information Select Committee has released a report claiming MPs are ruling out new communications channels "on the basis there is no capacity to deal with them".

About 20 per cent of MP correspondence in the UK is via electronic means and is predicted to grow to as high as 70 per cent in the next few years.

IT lobby group the Australian Computer Society (ACS) does not engage in e-mail campaigns, instead encouraging members to write to the media.

ACS president Richard Hogg said its use would certainly be considered, but in a limited and focused way.

Unions such as the Community Public Sector Union have direct links on their Web site to political parties as well as media outlets encouraging members to have their say.

The House of Commons report found that when MPs receive a mass posting of e-mails from a group protesting about a particular issue, rather than dealing with each e-mail either personally or through a member of staff, MPs "may decide to delete each one without reading it first; but care will need to be taken to identify and preserve mail from constituents".

The UK committee plans to look into e-mail filtering software to "weed out 'junk' e-mail" and recommended MPs have reliable remote access links from outside the Houses of Parliament and that they are trained in using such technologies as virtual private networks.

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