Swiss plan to ban spam

Anyone for spam?

Moves are underway in Switzerland to introduce a law banning the sending of junk emails.

This content was published on March 19, 2004 minutes

The software giant, Microsoft, has joined forces with politicians to draft legislation which has just been presented to the Swiss parliament.

The law would make it illegal for Swiss companies to send unsolicited messages to individuals unless they are already a customer or have given their permission.

Sixty-two per cent of all emails sent worldwide are “spam”. That’s about 10 billion junk mails a day, straining networks and wasting time, money and resources.

While the United States and the European Union have passed legislation against spamming, the field is entirely unregulated in Switzerland.

“One of the most important prerequisites to deal with the spam issue is legal enforcement,” Alexander Stüger, general manager of Microsoft Switzerland, told swissinfo.

“It must also be possible in Switzerland to go after the spammers and have the right legal means to stop them.”

Flood of spam

The scale of unwanted commercial emails has reached epic proportions and the situation is getting worse.

According to a study by the University of Nottingham, British workers spend up to an hour a day clearing their inboxes of junk emails.

In the European Union, it is estimated that €12.5 billion (SFr19.5 billion) a year is spent on filtering software, storage capacity and loss of productivity.

According to the Swiss government, the federal administration alone spends SFr2 million, preventing, blocking and eliminating spam.

EU laws make it a criminal offence to send emails or text messages unless the recipient has agreed in advance to accept them.

Firms, which continue to send junk mail, face fines and can even be sued by recipients.

Harsher penalties

The proposed Swiss law goes a step further.

“One thing which we think would be wise to add is not only to go after the person who is sending the spam mail, but also to go after the person who benefits from the mail,” said Stüger.

“In many cases these are different people and this closes a severe loophole in the EU legislation.”

If the initiative can be tacked on to the telecommunications bill, which is already going through parliament, implementation could be fairly rapid.

Otherwise, it will be a minimum of two years before it becomes law.

New technology

Besides promoting anti-spam laws, Microsoft is also creating new technologies to help fight junk mail.

In addition to more effective filters, new software is expected to make it impractical and uneconomical for marketers to send mass emails.

Various technologies are being tried out including a solution based on identifying the sender of the email.

This would work in much in the same way that “caller ID” for telephones shows the phone number of the person calling.

It is designed to beat spammers who increasingly send emails purporting to be from someone they are not.

Other software requires any incoming email from an unfamiliar address – one not in a user’s address book – to prove that it isn’t spam.

Another option would be to force the sender of an unwanted email to pay.

swissinfo, Vincent Landon

In brief

Spam is unwanted, unsolicited email from a sender with whom the recipient does not already have a personal or business relationship.

Also known as junk email, it accounts for 62 per cent of all messages flowing across the internet.

The burden of dealing with spam costs billions of euros each year.

In the United States, the first federal anti-spam legislation, known as the Can-Spam Act, became law on January 1.

European Union laws have also come into force, though questions have been raised about their effectiveness.

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