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Legislation and enforcement - a cross-border issue

Background papers

Although there is no a single solution to overcoming spam, appropriate legislation and effective enforcement are two of the main elements in the fight to combat the problem. 

As the phenomenon of spam is relatively recent, not all countries have spam laws, and even those that have already implemented specific legislation are currently facing the problem of enforcement at the national and international level.

Furthermore, spammers (often also scammers) are increasingly exploiting the international nature of the Internet. For this reason, cross-border cooperation is crucial both in the elaboration and the implementation of new legislation and in its subsequent enforcement. 

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Opt-in and opt-out approaches
In October 2003, the European Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications (2002/58/EC) entered into force. With this directive, the sending of unsolicited communications via e-mail, SMS or phone has become more rigidly regulated across all European Union (EU) member States. The basic principles are: 
  • Opt-in approach: businesses to gain prior consent before sending unsolicited emails for direct marketing. This consent must be explicitly given, except where there is an existing customer relationship.
  • Technology neutral definition of spam: it covers also SMS, MMS, etc.
  • Senders have to clearly indicate the use of cookies or other tracking devices (including spyware).

See also Communication from the Commission on unsolicited commercial communications or "spam"

In January 2004, the United States CAN-SPAM Act entered into force. This bill does not ban commercial e-mail outright, but establishes a series of rules for lawful electronic marketing, based on two main principles:

  • Recipients of commercial electronic mail have a right to decline to receive additional commercial electronic messages from the same source (opt-out approach).
  • Senders of commercial e-mails should not mislead recipients as to the source or content of such mail.

To facilitate the determination of weather an e-mail message is subject to the provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act, the Federal Trade Commission issued on 16 December 2004 the Final Rule Defining What Constitutes a “Commercial Electronic Mail Message." The text of the Final Rule is available online.  

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Anti-Spam Laws and Authorities Worldwide

  ITU Survey on Anti-Spam Legislation Worldwide 

In the framework of its "Countering Spam" activities, the International Telecommunication Union has created a platform to gather anti-spam legislation worldwide, and provide a list of the competent enforcement authorities and their contact details. Links to news and other sources is also provided. Information is regularly updated. 

A list containing information and contact details of enforcement bodies in OECD economies is available on the OECD website

If you have comments, or would like to provide any additional information, please contact the ITU Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) at cybersecurity (at)


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Updated : 2011-04-04