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