Internet users fed up with the seemingly endless flow of spam should pin their hopes on technological solutions rather than legislative ones, a top U.S. regulator said this week.
“No one should expect any new law to make a substantial difference by itself,” U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Timothy J. Muris told a group of business executives and government officials at a conference in Aspen, Colorado Tuesday.
The commissioner’s remarks, released in a statement by the FTC office, come in the wake of a handful of anti-spam bills that have been introduced in the last year.
Muris warned, however, that some of the proposed legislation could actually make it more difficult to prosecute spammers. One bill, for instance, makes suing spammers more complicated than it is under the FTC Act, Muris said, and another requires federal prosecutors to prove a spammer falsified his identity in 10,000 different e-mails to bring a felony charge.
Part of the problem of tracking down spammers is their ability to retain anonymity and the low cost of sending unsolicited commercial e-mail, he said.
“Eventually, the spam problem will be reduced, if at all, through technological innovation … legislation cannot do much to solve the problem,” Muris said.
The commissioner called on Internet service providers to help consumers more easily report spam and said that the FTC would continue to investigate new technologies to fight the problem.
Combating spam “is one of the most daunting consumer protection problems FTC has ever faced,” Muris said.
While the U.S. commissioner conveyed little faith in legislation’s ability to fight spam, European regulators have moved to adopt anti-spam rules prohibiting e-mail marketers from sending promotions to individuals who have not indicated that they wish to receive them.
This “opt-in” approach to commercial e-mail was adopted by the European Parliament last year and is due to be taken up by the individual member states later this year.
Erika Mann, a German member of the European Parliament and chair of the European Internet Foundation, said Wednesday that although she was not surprised by Muris’ views, she disagreed.
“In my opinion, this kind of (opt-in) legislation is needed to provide a legal backbone,” Mann said. “I am not so optimistic to believe that it will solve all the problems, but at least we have a legal standpoint with which to go after spammers.”
Mann and a group of other European Parliament members met with U.S. legislators in July to discuss the spam problem. At that time, Mann said that she believed that the U.S. and E.U. would strike an agreement to prosecute spammers across international borders.
On Wednesday Mann said she was not sure where the negotiations currently stood, but said that the U.S. and E.U. had been having “very intense” discussions over the matter.