Switzerland serves up a ban on spam

Eight out of ten emails are spam, resulting in clogged-up mailboxes (imagepoint)

Sending spam mail from Switzerland becomes a punishable offence from Sunday when new legislation comes into force, but the flow of spam is not expected to stop.

This content was published on April 1, 2007 - 10:57

Unsuspecting computer users may fall foul of the law if they fail to protect their PCs against malicious software used by spammers to spread their unsolicited messages.

Only one per cent of unsolicited mail received in Switzerland originates in the country itself and the legislation covers only these spam messages.

Despite this limitation, the deputy director of the Federal Communications Office, Peter Fischer, told swissinfo he was happy with the new law.

"Given the fact that spam is a phenomenon which is not limited to Switzerland, the measures taken are the best possible," said Fischer.

"It's a start," Marc Henauer, head of the Coordination Unit for Cybercrime Control (CYCO), told swissinfo.

No haven

Making spamming illegal will help prevent Switzerland becoming a spammers' haven, Henauer says.

The legislation, which brings Switzerland into line with the United States and the European Union, envisages up to three years in prison and fines of up to SFr100,000 ($82,566) for offenders.

It forms part of the amended law on telecommunications and the law against unfair competition.

Eight out of ten emails are spam and the number sent daily across the globe runs into billions.

Spam includes advertising for everything imaginable - from herbal remedies for erection problems to adult and child pornography.

Henauer explained that spam could guide unwary users to internet sites containing malicious software, which in turn can cause damage to a computer.

Action

The police will be unable to take action unless a person files a complaint. "People have to go to the local police and report [cases]," Henauer said.

Telecommunication providers, mainly ISPs, are also given more legal backing to stop clients abusing the network.

"Providers must take the necessary steps to combat spam... and [to] protect their clients from receiving unsolicited advertising. They are allowed to eliminate unsolicited mail without [their] clients seeing it."

The providers can also block a client's transmissions or cut them off if they know he or she is spamming.

Customers who receive spam from a Swiss email address can also report offenders to ISPs, which have to take action, Henauer said.

Zombie computers

The law will also target end-users who fail to install the necessary protection against malicious software used by spammers to spread mail. They face having their internet connections blocked.

The software, viruses or Trojan horses use the victim's computer - called in the computer world a zombie - as a relay to spread spam, thus concealing the spammer's true identity.

Many computers in Switzerland are used in this way, experts say, and up to 80 per cent of spam worldwide is generated through zombie computers.

swissinfo, Steve Chetcuti

Key facts

End user subscriptions / Telecommunication service providers

2005: 2,585,277 / 150
2004: 2,250,434 / 152
2003: 2,730,622 / 131
2002: 2,337,048 / 125
2001: 2,093,162 / 114

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In brief

The amendments to the law on telecommunications of April 30, 1997 were adopted by parliament on March 24, 2006

Apart from the section on spam, the new law opens the way for the liberalisation of the so-called "last mile", the copper cable between the end user and exchange.

Numerous acronyms have been invented for Spam, two of the most common being "S*it Posing As Mail" and "Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages".

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