Statute revamp planned to log out unwanted e-mails

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By M. RAJENDRAN in Delhi
  • Published 5.01.04

New Delhi, Jan. 5: Help is finally at hand for long-suffering e-mail users who find their mailboxes jammed daily with unsolicited mail — a pernicious practice that has been dubbed as spamming.

The Union ministry of communications and information technology is likely to crack down on privacy invaders. It is about to start an initiative that will mimic a recent US law that imposes penalties on those sending unsolicited mail.

A working group consisting of IT secretary and a member from the IT industry is likely to be set up by the month-end to formulate a draft based on which an amendment to the IT Act will be finalised.

E-mail users know that no amount of filters or blocking devices can deter privacy busters from sending unwanted mails. And then there are commercial interests who hawk their latest product or service and show no respect for privacy of individuals by sending out huge batches of e-mails.

At present, there is no legal remedy in India to stop the spammers who generally flood the internet with many copies of the same message and literally force the message on unwilling people. These messages are nothing more than commercial advertising for dubious products and services.

Pavan Duggal, a leading cyber law expert, says, “Spam causes immense nuisance as a recipient, without his/her request or consent, becomes the receiving point of unwarranted, commercial and other nonsensical e-mails. In countries where there are strong privacy laws, governments have created legislation that are strongly against spam.”

Spam is a matter of immense concern for netizens all across the world. While netizens are helped in some jurisdictions by strong anti-spamming laws, those in other countries are at the mercy of spammers because of the lack of any appropriate regulatory mechanism.

The United States implemented its first federal law on spam last year. This law is called the Can Spam Act, 2003, which came into effect last Thursday. Primarily, this new law is an Act to regulate inter-state commerce by imposing limitations and penalties on the transmission of unsolicited commercial electronic mail through the internet.

It seeks to provide various do’s and don’ts for the spammer who aspires to be legitimate. This law is based on the “opt out” option.

Controlling the assault of non-solicited pornography and marketing activity can be curbed only if unsolicited commercial e-mail messages are properly labelled. They should also include opt-out instructions and the sender’s physical address. This new legislation has prohibited the use of deceptive subject lines and false headers in such messages.

“Most of the spam comes from a relatively small number of hard-core spammers who send out millions of messages per day. These would be now targeted by the Can Spam Act, 2003. As a result prosecutions, damages, fines and imprisonment ranging to a period of five years will be possible,” says Duggal.

However, he feels this approach is not foolproof. The law is being viewed as a victory of the powerful advertising and marketing industries that wants to use the benefits of spam over bonafide consumer interests.