Concern Spam laws don’t go far enough

WITH the Federal Government’s Spam Bill 2003 passed in the House of Representatives last week, Western Australian players remain dubious as to whether it will have any real impact on the problem of spam in Australia.

While most WA players welcome the Federal Government’s efforts and are supportive of the legislation in principle, they say there are issues with it in its current format.

When introducing the spam legislation to Parliament last week, Federal Science and Technology Minister Peter McGauran said spam cost business in the vicinity of $900 per employee each year.

Moreover, spam soaks up time and resources of recipients and of the ISPs that carry it across networks – both situations costing money.

There is also the risk that employees could inadvertently delete legitimate email messages amidst the deluge of junk email.

Internet Business Corporation (IBC) managing director Richard Keeves said that, while the bill marked a milestone in the battle against spam, its effect on the overall volume of spam would be minimal at best as most spam in generated overseas. He also had serious concerns regarding some of the legislation saying that it contradicted measures in the Privacy Act.

“In the movement to control unsolicited commercial messages, features such as a functional unsubscribe facilities and mandatory inclusion of the sender’s organisational contact details are vital steps in the right direction,” Mr Keeves said.

“However, other features will only add to the problems. For example, the bill’s optin regime contradicts previous measures within the Privacy Act.

“It will be interesting to see how successful the concept of issuing infringement notices is and whether the maximum penalties of $1.1 million per day for an organisation are ever applied.

“Similarly, the banning of all electronic address harvesting tools is a good principle, but will be unworkable in practice.

“It will encourage the black market trade in software, creating an enforcement nightmare.

“However, I support strong penalties because it gives ‘teeth’ to legislation.”

WA Internet Association president and director of legal services at the University of Western Australia, Kimberley Heitman, said other problems with the legislation included the fact that it allowed companies to send a “factual statement” – an element of the legislation that would be open to interpretation under the letter of the law.

Mr Heitman, who is also an Electronic Frontiers Australia board member (an organisation that studies the legal aspects of computing) said that excluding government, charitable, religious and political organisations was also a major issue because unwanted email from any source was considered to be spam by most users.

He said the WAIA has taken the point of view that educating its members on best practice and spam avoidance has been much more effective in stopping the deluge.

WAIA has a strict spam code of conduct that applies to all its members.

Jackson McDonald partner Stephanie Faulkner said while the legislation would have little impact on the flow of spam in WA email accounts, it was important that the government had laws governing spam.

“This legislation is a bandaid solution in that most spam is generated offshore, but we must have laws governing things such as spam,” she said.

Ms Faulkner said Australian laws must be in balance with corresponding laws of other countries.

“You want to make sure that your laws are in balance and that the laws are harmonious with the standards that are in the US and major territories such as the European Union,” she said.

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