Australia mulls global antispam effort

The antipodean nation should work aggressively with international bodies to curb junk e-mail, urges a report from the government's tech agency.

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
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Australia should work aggressively with international organizations and other nations to curb spam, a new report from the country's technology agency recommends.

If Australia's government follows this advice, it would apparently become the first nation to take the campaign against unsolicited bulk e-mail to an international level. The report suggests turning to groups like the Economic Cooperation and Development Organization (OECD) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to persuade other governments to enact antispam laws.

Because spam is such a fluid problem around national borders, some experts have concluded that technical countermeasures or a global consensus represent the two most promising approaches to fighting the ever-growing deluge. The 46-page report, released late Tuesday from Australia's National Office for the Information Economy, also recommends bilateral talks between Australia and individual nations.

"We will pursue all the multilateral options and do what we can to negotiate arrangements with countries that seem to us to be the most relevant," said Richard Alston, Australia's communications minister.

In the United States, no federal law restricting spam exists, but about half of the states have enacted some form of antispam law. Last week, Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., reintroduced a bill that they first drafted in 1999, which would make it a federal crime to use a false address when sending unsolicited commercial e-mail.

Europe has taken a more regulatory approach. Last year, the European Parliament concluded that sending commercial communications is prohibited unless the recipient has legitimately "opted in" and chosen to receive them.

Australia's report suggests that even an international legal approach would be insufficient and recommends considering technology, industry regulation, and domestic legislation, too. The proposed domestic legislation would levy a ban on unsolicited electronic messaging, unless there were a preexisting business-customer relationship between the two parties. Also, all commercial electronic messaging would be required to contain accurate details of the sender's identity, including a physical address.

Internationally, the report advises, Australia should work to "develop international guidelines and cooperative mechanisms that aim to reduce the total volume of spam; apply the opt-in principle where practicable; eliminate, to the greatest extent practicable, false or misleading subject lines and header information; and provide end users with information on antispam measures."

Patrick Gray of ZDNet Australia contributed to this report.