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Brussels, 15 July 2003

SPAM: European Commission goes on the offensive

Erkki Liikanen European Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society outlined today in Brussels how the European Commission is planning to address the proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail, otherwise known as 'spam'. Given the timely adoption last year of a directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, Member States have to transpose a 'ban on spam' into national legislation by the end of October 2003. As a second step, the European Commission expects a Communication on spam to be adopted in the Autumn. Concrete action would focus on effective enforcement, notably through international co-operation, technical measures for countering spam, and consumer awareness. The proposed measures would be first tested with Member States and interested parties through a workshop to be convened in October.

The proliferation of unsolicited commercial e-mail, or 'spam', has reached a point where it creates a major problem for the development of e-commerce and the Information Society. Businesses and individuals spend an increasing amount of time and money simply to clean up e-mailboxes. The loss in productivity for EU businesses has been estimated at 2.5 billion € for 2002. Also, it is estimated that before the end of the summer, over 50 percent of global e-mail traffic will be spam. Spam has the potential of destroying some of the major benefits brought about by services such as e-mail and SMS.

Erkki Liikanen said: "Combating spam has become a matter for us all and has become one of the most significant issues facing the Internet today. It is a fight over many fronts. The EU, Member States, industry and consumersall have a role to play in the fight against spam both at the national and international level. We must act before users of e-mails or SMS stop using the Internet or mobile services, or refrain from using it to the extent that they otherwise would".

The EU was a first mover on the legal front by adopting as early as July 2002 a Directive that will lead to a pan-European 'ban on spam' to individuals. With a limited exception covering existing customer relationships, e-mail marketing is only allowed with prior consent (Article 13 of Directive 2002/58/EC of 12 July 2002 on Privacy and Electronic Communications). This so-called 'opt-in' regime equally covers SMS messages and other electronic messages received on any mobile or fixed terminal. Member States can also ban unsolicited commercial e-mails to businesses. Member States have to apply and effectively enforce this regime by the 31st of October 2003 at the latest.

Other actions outlined today address the various legal, technical and educational facets of spam. Member States, industry and consumers are all expected to contribute to an effective implementation: measures include enforcement by public authorities, co-operation within industry (filtering, codes of conduct), consumer (and industry) awareness, as well as bilateral and multilateral international co-operation.

The Commission will notably be working together with the data protection authorities from the Member States grouped in the so-called 'Article 29 Working Party'.

These actions will be tested first with Member States and interested parties during a workshop to be convened by the Commission in October. This workshop will primarily be addressed to Member States, industry and consumer associations. The intention is to identify a series of actions to which Member States and interested parties can commit themselves.

Since much spam comes from outside the EU, international co-operation is a key element of the Commission's response. During a visit to the US Federal Trade Commission in June, Commissioner Liikanen stressed the need for a global approach to what is a global problem. He therefore offered today to host an OECD workshop on spam early in 2004 to convene experts from the different regions of the world. The EU has also asked that the issue of international co-operation in the fight against spam be included in the Action Plan to be agreed at the forthcoming World Summit on The Information Society to be held in Geneva on 10-12 December this year, in order to draw top political attention to the question and to foster synergies between the various initiatives.

Commissioner Liikanen also welcomed the announcement that the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue has considered the fight against spam a major priority for 2003 and will devote part of its next annual meeting to this problem.

Other measures in the new regulatory framework for electronic communications

The Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications is part of a new, wider regulatory framework for electronic communications (see IP/01/1801 and IP/02/259) Today, Commissioner Liikanen recalled that (except for the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications) the date of application of this new regulatory framework is 25 July 2003. Although progress is good in most Member States, Mr. Liikanen stressed that the Commission will take appropriate enforcement action against Member States that do not implement the new package are in a timely fashion.

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