02/02/2004 - Governments must step up the fight against spam by improving cross-border cooperation on network security and law enforcement as part of a multipronged drive to protect the integrity of the Internet, the OECD said.
"We need a coordinated international drive to maintain consumer and business confidence in the Internet," OECD Deputy Secretary-General Herwig Schlögl told the opening session of a two-day OECD workshop on spam hosted by the European Commission in Brussels. "Governments have an essential role to play both as policy makers and as users of e-mail themselves."
The intrusiveness of bulk unsolicited electronic messages, or spam, much of it linked to fraudulent, deceptive or pornographic commercial activities and increasingly carrying computer viruses, has raised questions about the future development not only of e-commerce and e-mail marketing but also of e-government. Despite increasing use of anti-spam services and technologies, the volume of spam continues to rise.
According to some sources, unsolicited bulk mail volumes now account for as much as one-half of all e-mail traffic on the Internet. Even if a given country's domestic e-marketing culture discourages spam, or legal restrictions are in place, spam can easily be sent from elsewhere. With Internet access available in over 200 countries, spam can originate from almost any location across the globe.
The OECD, which groups 30 developed countries, has already produced influential guidelines for computer security, online privacy and consumer protection setting basic standards for governments, companies and individual users. As a forum within which governments can meet business and other stakeholders to discuss economic challenges and ways of addressing them, it provides an ideal platform for the development of policies to combat spam.
Businesses and governments have an interest in ensuring Internet security but also have both an economic and a practical interest in fighting spam. In addition to promoting and providing technical solutions for commercial use of e-mail, governments are themselves issuers of bulk e-mails for public service purposes as well as recipients having to protect themselves from spam.
To fight spam, governments and companies are looking at a number of possible solutions, including legal and technological safeguards and arrangements to ensure consumers would have a choice in stating whether or not they wish to receive e-mail from a specified sender.
While there is no single easy solution to the problem of spam, governments can act on a number of fronts. In addition to working together to improve law enforcement, they can also use their spending power as a carrot to encourage suppliers to develop more effective anti-spam protection systems.
"For the Internet to go on growing as a viable commercial medium, users must have confidence in its security and usability," Mr. Schlögl said. "Spam threatens to erode consumer confidence online, which in turn would undermine the digital economy and the open character of the Internet as a whole."
Further information on the OECD Workshop on Spam can be found on the OECD's website at www.oecd.org/sti/spam