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Singapore considers antispam legislation

The country is mulling a policy that would make it legal to distribute bulk commercial e-mail, as long as it's sent with instructions on how to opt out of future mailings.

Singapore is set to join a growing number of countries by sanctioning bulk e-mail, as long as it's sent with instructions on how to opt out of future mailings.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, or IDA, has joined hands with lawmakers to propose a set of regulations to curb the deluge of unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Taking a cue from the Japan, South Korea and the United States, IDA's suggested approach will be based on the "opt out" method.

Unlike the systems used by Australia and the United Kingdom, which require prior consent, the proposed regulations for Singapore will allow marketers to send bulk e-mail on the condition that the sender includes a way for recipients to request removal from the sender's mailing list.

Senders of bulk e-mail can choose to provide a return address for such requests, or they can allow recipients to unsubscribe through a Web form, said Charles Lim, principal senior state counsel for the Attorney General's Chambers of Singapore, the authority overseeing legal reforms on the island state.

According to Leong Keng Thai, IDA's deputy chief executive and director general for telecommunications companies, the opt-out approach will reduce unsolicited commercial e-mail without hampering legitimate online marketing activities.

"On one hand, we need to address the issue from the consumer perspective, but we also need to ensure (that) whatever measures we put in place, particular legislative measures, do not overly burden or hamper business operations," Leong said.

The proposed regulations, which would apply to all spam originating from Singapore, would also bar misleading subject lines and call for marketers to provide current electronic and postal addresses with their e-mail.

In addition, the law would require companies to tag their ads with labels like "ADV" so that recipients could easily identify commercial messages, said Lim of the Attorney General's Chambers.

Existing laws already prohibit pornographic spam and e-mail scams.

If passed, the legislation would allow local Internet service providers such as StarHub, SingTel's SingNet and Pacific Internet to initiate civil lawsuits and seek damages and injunctions against spammers, Lim said.

The use of automated spamming software would also be outlawed under the proposal. Individuals or companies found using such tools could be sued by Internet service providers, he added.

Like the U.S. approach, Singapore's antispam measures would forbid recipients of junk mail from suing the culprits, though Internet service providers could.

"The ability to track down the source of the spam is highly technical," Leong said. "Even if individuals or corporations want to do it, in all likelihood, the associated ISPs would be involved."

He said Internet service providers will be in a "better position" to pursue legal recourse against spammers.

The Singaporean agencies are now seeking public feedback on their antispam proposal. A bill could be drafted for parliamentary approval by "early next year," Leong said.

A downside of the legislation, however, is that it would have no bearing on perpetrators from other countries, which account for the bulk of spam confronting Singapore.

According to the IDA, 77 percent of spam in the country is generated overseas, but no cross-border agreements exist to allow Internet service providers to pursue legal action against spammers outside Singapore.

The IDA has said, however, that it will work with international bodies such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the International Telecommunication Union on more concerted global efforts to crack down on spam.

Beyond international cooperation, IDA will also partner with Singapore business associations and Internet service providers on an educational campaign about spam.

Additionally, the Direct Marketing Association of Singapore today published a set of e-marketing guidelines for its members. The group plans to set up a "do not spam" registry for local e-mail users by year's end.

"IDA understands that spam will continue to be a global issue, and there is no immediate panacea to resolve this problem completely," Leong said. "However, this multipronged approach, together with legislation, is a step forward to curb e-mail spam."

Winston Chai of CNETAsia reported from Singapore.