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Number 53
April 2003:
Special theme:
Cognitive Systems

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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003


News about legal information relating to Information Technology from European directives, and pan-European legal requirements and regulations.

Unsolicited Mail
Most of us have received at some time or other unsolicited emails advertising products and services. A number of Preference Services now operate within the Communication Sector, which enable consumers to withdraw their names and addresses from marketing circulation lists. Member organisations undertake to remove the addresses of people from their mailing lists who want this done. However, unscrupulous companies tend to trade names and addresses with other scam promoters, and those mailing lists may never be updated. The Stop Now Orders (EC Directive) Regulations 2001, which is a Code of Practice enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS), enables the Office of Fair Trading to bring an injunction against traders breaching regulations on misleading advertising. Action can now be taken across EU borders so scams operating across Europe can be pursued.

But even worse than the marketing scams themselves is the sheer volume of unsolicited commercial email (UCE), more commonly known as "spam", that can shift the cost of advertising from the advertiser to the recipient when with one email account a junk emailer can send a message to millions of recipients, turning that message into hundreds or possibly thousands of megabytes of data.

Vint Cerf, Senior Vice President, MCI is quoted as saying "Spamming is the scourge of electronic-mail and newsgroups on the Internet. It can seriously interfere with the operation of public services, to say nothing of the effect it may have on any individual's e-mail system…..Spammers are, in effect, taking resources away from users and service suppliers without compensation and without authorization." Whilst we would all agree that spamming is annoying, it is true to say that it also constitutes a theft of service.

One way of dealing with spam is to block the sites from which these UBE's (Unsolicited Bulk Emails) come. Pressure can be put on spammers by blocking access to websites that persistently advertise by UBE. However, spam is almost always forged. The address from which the message appears to have come is made to look like a real or innocent person.

Organisations such as EuroCAUCE (The European Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email) have been set up to promote legislation which would outlaw UCE. European Directive 2002/58/EC on Privacy and Electronic Communication, first published in July 2002, will be implemented in Members States by 31 October 2003. The Directive states "For such forms of unsolicited communications for direct marketing, it is justified to require that prior explicit consent of the recipients is obtained before such communications are addressed to them". "When contact details are obtained, the customer should be informed about their further use for direct marketing in a clear and distinct manner, and be given the opportunity to refuse such usage". "Certain electronic mail systems allow subscribers to view the sender and subject line of an electronic mail, and also to delete the message without having to download the rest of the electronic mail's content or any attachments, thereby reducing costs which could arise from downloading unsolicited electronic mails or attachments. These modalities may continue to be useful in certain cases as an additional tool to the general obligations established in this Directive." For more details on the Directive see:

by Heather Weaver, CCLRC
Heather Weaver regrets that she is unable to reply personally to emails or telephone calls seeking legal advice.