Europe Cracks Down on Spam

BRUSSELS (05/12/2000) - Spam has run into trouble as the European Commission attempts to modify existing rules regulating the processing of personal data in the electronic-communications sector.

Under a draft text that must still be finalized, the Commission plans to ban the sending of all e-mail to subscribers who have not indicated that they want to receive such e-mail.

The proposal would end the use of e-mail for direct marketing purposes, according to Laurence Djolakian, speaking on behalf of the Federation of European Direct Marketing (FEDMA) at a public hearing on the proposal and companion proposals that would make up a new legislative framework for the telecommunications sector in the EU. The Commission held the hearings to help it shape the final proposals, which will be sent to Member States at the end of June.

"We are extremely worried by the amendments," Djolakian said.

The proposal is designed to ensure the highest levels of data privacy for consumers using electronic communications. It amends existing rules dating from 1997 that give consumers the right to block the collection of data about their usage and location when using electronic communications. It would also give consumers the right to determine which telephone number -- mobile, fixed or both -- would be placed in directories. Currently, consumers have to pay to keep a private phone number out of a directory.

The spam proposals reflect concern about the rapid growth of what is widely described as a nuisance. Spam is bulk, unsolicited commercial e-mail. During the hearing Joe McNamee, a spokesman for the European Internet Service Providers' Association estimated that the average U.S. consumer will receive 1,600 unsolicited e-mail messages each year by 2005.

Representatives from a host of other companies, including AOL Europe, Telefonica SA, Bertelsmann AG, KPN NV and British Telecommunications PLC also voiced concern over the spam ban at the hearing.

Simon Hampton of AOL Europe pointed out that "neither the opt-in nor opt-out provisions will stop spammers. The only way that the U.S. has been successful in stopping the practice is by challenging the spammers for abusing an ISP's (Internet service provider's) services."

Of prime concern to the companies is that the proposal appears to contradict provisions in the electronic-commerce framework directive that the EU formally adopted last week. Pablo Pfost of Telefonica SA reminded the hearing that under provisions of the framework directive, which takes effect across the EU in 18 months, consumers have the right to opt-out of unsolicited e-mail by signing up in national registrars that service providers must consult regularly.

Whether the Commission will resolve this contradiction remains to be seen, but the companies will all present written submissions repeating their arguments to the Commission.

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