Anti-spam legislation is about to go through another round of voting tonight in Strasbourg as the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs tries to adopt a new report with amendments.
We don't want to get into the whole involved mess but basically what you need to know is that the Telecoms Data Protection Directive (which includes the laws on spam) is in the fifth stage (first reading) of seven before it becomes EU law.
The whole spam saga was last discussed in Parliament in September, when a majority of MEPs voted in favour of an amendment that would have prohibited the sending of unsolicited email (spam) without prior permission. Except this clashed with other amendments and "pro-spam" politicians therefore referred the whole thing back to committee.
New amendments have been tabled and it's hoped that this time it is edging towards an acceptable compromise.
Sadly, this seems extremely unlikely as Joe McNamee of the European Internet Service Providers Association (EuroISPA) - who has lobbied for a spam ban for over two years - has already found several large holes in the new amendments.
Among the amendments are the inclusion of SMS as a form of unsolicited marketing. Except, of course, SMS is soon to be outmoded by EMS and MMS, so will these also be included in the legislation?
The inclusion of an obligatory (and working) email address for people sending unsolicited electronic mail may seem an excellent proposal, except, as Mr McNamee points out, what's the point when the person is under no obligation to even open emails sent to that address?
Then of course the suggestion that email systems are adjusted so people only have to see the sender and subject line before downloading the email appears to many as a step back in technology. Plus, you would still have to delete the emails and this approach works against the basic idea of the directive that you can insist you are taken off any mailing lists.
An argument increasingly being put forward by proponents of the "opt-out" spam approach (i.e. you have to ask not to be put on a list) - especially the British MEP Michael Cashman who has infuriated many by coming out in favour of spam - is that since people outside the EU will not be affected by the legislation and will send spam anyway, what's the point in having EU laws on spam?
This, both Mr McNamee and ourselves feel, is a classic case of false logic - like "if you've got nothing to hide, why can't we search your house?" As Mr McNamee pointed out to several MEPs in a mass emailing (spam? :-) ) - "Would it be reasonable to argue that there should be no copyright law in Europe because people outside Europe will continue to use the Internet to abuse intellectual property?"
It's a long and winding road. ®
A pdf of the directive's amendments (the relevant ones affect Article 13)