International Effort Needed Against Unwanted Commercial E-Mail

Washington – Unwanted, unsolicited, mass commercial e-mail - often called spam - is an issue of importance to consumers and businesses using the Internet, and international cooperation is needed to combat it, U.S. officials say.

Yael Weinman and Michael Davis are attorneys with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  On February 7, they participated in a webchat about U.S. efforts to rid the Internet of spam.

Weinman said international cooperation is essential in fighting spam. “Most spam cases involve more than jurisdiction, and enforcers around the globe often need the assistance of enforcers in other parts of the world to enable them to fit the pieces together in a spam enforcement case,” Weinman wrote.

Unfortunately, Davis said, one of the realities that makes it difficult to fight spam is that the FTC has found no reliable statistics on the percentages of spam that comes from marketers located within or outside the United States.  That is because spammers use technology tools - "rampant spoofing and the use of open relays, proxies and zombie drones" - to disguise a spam message's country of origin, Davis said.

The U.S. anti-spam law, the CAN-SPAM Act, is fairly new.  The law, which took effect in January 2004, allows civil penalties similar to fines to be assessed for violations.

The FTC has used the CAN-SPAM Act to file 26 law enforcement actions in U.S. federal courts to target spam. So far, courts have ordered defendants to pay more than $13.1 million in penalties.  The highest civil penalty award in any single CAN-SPAM case was $900,000 levied against Jumpstart Technologies for false "from" addresses and subject lines.

The United States is working with other countries to fight spam, Weinman said.  Through various international organizations, the U.S. government and the FTC work closely with counterparts in other countries on spam-related matters.  The FTC is very active in the London Action Plan, a network of spam enforcement agencies and industry participants dedicated to stronger international efforts to combat spam.  This network was co-founded by the FTC and the United Kingdom’s Office of Fair Trading in 2004.  Network officials meet annually, conduct periodic telephone conferences, and are in close contact by e-mail to cooperate on spam-related issues such as enforcement cooperation, consumer education and industry participation.

In addition to the London Action Plan, the FTC also is active in the spam-related work of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.  (See related article.)

A transcript of the webchat and information on upcoming webchats are available on USINFO’s Webchat Station.