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EC Calls For More Action On Spam, Spyware

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

28 November 2006

The European Commission on Monday called on all regulatory authorities and stakeholders in Europe to step up the fight against spam, spyware and malicious software.

Despite existing EU legislation to outlaw spam in Europe, European internet users continue to suffer from illegal online activities from inside the EU and from third countries, the Commission underlined in a new Communication. It stressed that although internet safety has been on the political agenda for some time, national authorities should step up their actions to prosecute illegal online activities.

It is time to turn the repeated political concern about spam into concrete actions to fight spam," observed Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media.

"In line with EU legislation outlawing spam, the Dutch authorities have managed to cut domestic spam by 85% - I'd like to see other countries achieving similar results through more efficient enforcement. I will revisit this issue again next year to see whether additional legislative measures against spam are required."

According to the EC, massive volumes of unsolicited email are still being sent; security firms Symantec and MessageLabs estimate that spam constitutes between 54% and 85% of all email.

From being a nuisance, unsolicited email has become increasingly fraudulent and criminal. Criminals are luring users into revealing their sensitive data and finances via so-called "phishing" emails. Privacy is at risk because spyware, spread by email or software, tracks and reports on users' behaviour. In turn concern about these risks is seriously restricting the growth of legitimate online services.

The new Communication on Spam acknowledged that legislative tools to fight these threats already exist, in particular the EU-wide “ban on spam” adopted in 2002 as part of the ePrivacy Directive.

However, implementation is still a problem in most EU Member States. To improve, they should now lay down clear lines of responsibility to use the tools available under EU law effectively. Because of the criminal trend in spam and its cross border aspects, good cooperation between enforcement authorities is paramount.

The Communication called on industry to cooperate fully, by applying proper filtering policies and assuring good online commercial practices in line with data protection law.

The Commission will reinforce further its dialogue and cooperation with third countries, high on the list of spam sending countries. The US and the EU have agreed to cooperate to tackle spam through joint enforcement initiatives, and explore ways to fight against illegal spyware and malicious software. For Asia, the Commission issued a Joint Statement on International Anti-spam Cooperation, adopted at the ASEM conference on eCommerce in 2005.

The Commission will also revisit the legislative framework when it introduces legislative proposals to strengthen user privacy and security in 2007.

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