OECD to sound international alarm on spam

Governments around the world should pool resources to fight spam, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development plans to tell an antispam summit this week.

Governments around the world should pool resources to fight spam, a problem that knows no national boundaries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development plans to tell an antispam summit this week.

Eradicating spam, unsolicited junk e-mail, has become a hot issue for politicians and business alike. About half of all e-mail now comes in the form of nuisance offers for sex enhancement aids, low-interest mortgages and the like.

The problem is becoming more worrisome, as junk e-mail is increasingly being used to spread malicious viruses capable of taking control of an unsuspecting computer user's machine. Spam has also been used in global e-mail scams that aim to intercept consumers' credit card or bank details.

All this calls for coordinated international action, the Paris-based OECD plans to tell hundreds of delegates at its fully booked workshop Feb. 2 and 3 in Brussels, Belgium.

"Spam is not the problem of any single country...It is a worldwide problem," the organization said in a background paper to the meeting. "It is increasingly clear that domestic efforts must be supplemented by internationally coordinated strategies to address the cross-border challenges posed by spam."

The European Union and the United States have taken competing approaches in addressing the problem of spam.

The EU reacted by passing a law in 2002 that makes it illegal to send unsolicited e-mail unless Internet users have explicitly asked for it, an approach known as "opt in."

But so far, only half the EU governments have transposed the antispam rules into national legislation, and some EU states, including Britain, have introduced only small fines as deterrents.

The month-old U.S. antispam law carries a decidedly more advertiser-friendly "opt out" approach, meaning that users must inform the sender that they no longer wish to receive its e-mails.

"It's absolutely imperative that global cooperation exists," said Richard Nash, secretary general of the European Internet Services Providers Association trade group.

According to IT intelligence firm IDC, electronic mail boxes will nearly double to 1.2 billion in 2005 from about 700 million today.

In May 2003, Internet service provider America Online was blocking 2.37 billion spam messages per day, the OECD said.

Story Copyright  © 2004 Reuters Limited.  All rights reserved.

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