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Wave of optimism as ITU WSIS meeting on countering spam closes
Priority actions identified to curb spam

Geneva, 9 July 2004 — Participants at the ITU WSIS thematic meeting on countering spam which concluded its work today agreed on a series of actions needed to curb spam. The watershed meeting was designed to launch a global effort that can ultimately lead to the eradication of spam. Based on a fruitful exchange of views and experiences, the meeting gave an opportunity to identify where priority action was needed.

"Spam has grown into a major plague affecting the digital world," said Dr Robert Horton, Acting Chair of the Australian Communications Authority and chairman of the meeting. "We are facing a global epidemic which can only be combated through a global and concerted action," he said. "What is at stake is no less than the protection and preservation of the Internet as we know it. I am convinced that we can curb spam within the next two years if we act on a number of fronts simultaneously and make sure that there are no havens for spammers anywhere in the world", Horton said.

Despite the enactment of anti-spam legislation in about thirty countries and the introduction of technical solutions by Internet service providers and end-users, there has been so far no significant impact on the volume of spam with spammers sending hundreds of millions of messages per day. A recent and growing phenomenon is the use of spam to support fraudulent and criminal activities — including attempts to capture financial information (e.g. account numbers and passwords) by masquerading messages as originating from trusted companies ("brand-spoofing" or "phishing") — and as a vehicle to spread viruses and worms. On mobile networks, a particular problem is the sending of bulk unsolicited text messages with the aim of generating traffic to premium-rate numbers. As these phenomena observe no national boundaries, it requires international cooperation between those who seek to enforce anti-spam laws.

Spam ranges from commercial advertising and offensive material to messages that support fraudulent and criminal activities. Today, it is estimated that 80% of email traffic is spam and the costs of spam to the global economy amounts to USD 25 billion annually. In addition to financial costs, it is also causing losses of productivity to service providers, businesses and end-users alike. With the growing dependence of users on the Internet and email for their personal and professional communications, spam threatens the very foundation of our information society.

While the meeting agreed that there was no silver bullet to curb spam, there was a large consensus on the need to adopt a multi-track approach incorporating strong legislation combined with technical solutions, consumer education, industry self-regulation and international cooperation.

Legislation: There was a strong sense that all countries of the world should have some form of legislation in place with an identified relevant regulator and contact point. It was suggested that when this regulatory network is in place, it could provide the basis for a global instrument such as a Memorandum of Understanding that could be open to all countries to create the mechanisms for cross-border law enforcement.

Technical solutions: Equally, there was widely held view that along with legislation, there was a need to deploy effective technical measures at the level of ISPs, carriers, mobile operators and end-users. Recent announcements by industry and standards groups that improved technical measures may be available within the next two years that can further counter spam are encouraging.

Industry initiatives: It was also suggested that industry players, and in particular ISPs, carriers, mobile operators and direct marketing associations, could develop self-regulatory codes of conduct to which they would adhere, in order to support anti-spam actions taken by regulators and consumers.

Consumer education: ISPs, carriers and operators, retailers, consumer and business organizations and governments should make consumer education a key element in the fight against spam. Campaigns can inform consumers of anti-spam measures and Internet security practices to help them not fall victim of abusive and fraudulent spammers.

International cooperation: only a global and coordinated approach to the problem of spam can have any hope to eradicate it. This cooperation must be found at the level of government, industry, consumer, business and anti-spam groups. While there is no need to have the same anti-spam legislation everywhere, the need for a cooperative approach to anti-spam law enforcement was deemed fundamental by participants. The need to engage all countries, irrespective of their level of development, was also considered essential. To this end, it was acknowledged that assistance to developing countries was critical.

The chairman of the meeting called on all actors — users, industry and governments — to join forces linking the expertise and mandates of various international organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) and the Internet Society to develop an international framework to "combat this inherently global problem".

He also called on ITU, given its diverse membership and valuable reach together with its sensitivity to equity of treatment across its membership, to help countries establish national laws and regulatory responsibilities so as to build a foundation for further cooperation in combating spam. "With this foundation in place", Dr Horton said, "a global MoU would be feasible and more realistic". In addition to helping countries with introducing anti-spam legislation, he felt ITU could assist in compiling model legislations and reference materials based on a survey of needs and capabilities which currently exist on spam. He also encouraged participants to provide ITU with a list of contacts dealing with spam issues in each country, and details of their current spam-related laws, to facilitate further dialogue within ITU and other international organizations, which have a role in the spam agenda.

The Chairman's report on the meeting is available here.

For more information, please contact:

Mr Robert Shaw
Internet Strategy and Policy Advisor
International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
Tel: +41 22 730 5338
E-mail contact

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