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By: MarkJ - 12 October, 2009 (8:02 AM)
The European Commission (EC) has once again repeated its call for EU countries to do more to tackle online privacy threats to the public. A new study reveals that although in recent years several countries have taken some measures to enforce Europe's ban on SPAM (junk email), including fines, the number of prosecuted cases and sanctions imposed on lawbreakers vary considerably.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media:

"Today's figures show that several EU countries are doing more to enforce online privacy rules. However, spam is an area where we can and must improve for the benefit of internet users in the EU. Although since 2002, European law has prohibited spam and spyware, on average 65% of EU citizens are still affected by spam on a regular basis.

We need to step up our fight against spammers and make sure that the EU adopts legislation that provides for strong civil and criminal sanctions against spammers. I call on EU countries to reinforce their national efforts to fight on-line privacy threats such as spam, spyware and malicious software.

If we can end the spam plague within Europe we will set the example for our neighbouring countries and other parts of the world which are as responsible for spam we receive in Europe. "

Estimates vary, although most Internet security firms still state that between 75 and 95% of all email is made up of junk messages. Elsewhere the UK is one of those singled out for weak enforcement, although happily our ISPs have managed to improve their security and most have updated Terms and Conditions (T&C's) in a way that allows them to tackle abusers.

Study - General UK Assessment

The United Kingdom can be considered as a Member State where comprehensive information can be found on a diversified series of actions and measures related to the combat against online malpractices such as spam, spyware or malicious software.

Although issues of spam and spyware receive considerable publicity in the United Kingdom, relatively few formal controls or (cooperation) procedures exist. The website of the United Kingdom’s regulatory agency for the electronic communications sector, the Office of Communications (OFCOM) indicates that the agency does not regulate Internet content and advises individuals with concerns about spam or spyware to ‘ask their ISP’.

Most ISPs offer their clients (web based) spam filters, use blacklists, etc. Although legislation has been introduced, sanctions are limited and few resources have been allocated to the agencies charged with enforcing the rules. No cases have been reported of action being taken against spammers.

The situation is a little more optimistic regarding spyware and although there have not been many cases, there is no doubt that the provisions of the Computer Misuse Act will apply in respect of this form of behaviour, at least where software is installed without the authority of a computer owner.

An analysis of more than 140 enforcement cases from 22 Member States shows considerable differences between the number of cases per country and the fines imposed. The highest numbers of cases were reported in Spain (39), Slovakia (39) and Romania (20).

The highest fines were imposed in the Netherlands (€1,000,000), Italy (€570,000) and Spain (€30,000). However, spammers in countries such as Romania, Ireland, and Latvia received modest fines ranging from hundreds to several thousand Euros.

The study confirms the need for the legislative improvements proposed under the reform of the EU's Telecoms rules. These include clearer and more consistent enforcement rules and dissuasive sanctions, better cross-border cooperation, and adequate resources for national authorities in charge of protecting citizens' online privacy.
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