Oliver Heald M.P
The House of Commons
I wonder if you can help to prevent the rapid expansion of unwanted advertising emails (spam) on the internet.
In the USA there has been a law in force for some time that requires anyone sending unsolicited email to provide an address so that the recipient can ask for his/her email address to be removed from the mailing list. However, this law has had the effect that spammers use a request to be removed as confirmation that an email address is valid. The address is then re-used or sold on to others who want to use emails as a way to advertise their products and services.
I believe that there was an attempt at EU legislation that required all mass emailers to seek permission from the proposed recipients before sending the emails. This was opposed by a lot of reputable mass emailers because it was a chicken and egg problem. I don't know what the laws are now that apply to mass emails in the EU. Suffice it to say that whatever they are, they are ineffective.
I propose that a different form of legislation should be implemented if it is possible. I propose that all mass mailings must include the correct address (in plain type) of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides the service to the mass mailing organisation. In that way, recipients of unwanted email will be able to complain directly to the relevant ISP about misuse of their service. Most spam emailers try to conceal their real addresses so that it is very difficult or even impossible to identify the source of the unwanted email. I think that most ISPs would take action to stop a mass emailer from using their services in the future if they receive a lot of complaints. This suggestion could be extended to require all British ISPs to reject any mass mailings that do not include the correct source ISP address. I do not think that this would be an onerous requirement for any ISP. Nearly all internet connections can be traced (eventually) back to their sources with the right software. However, tracing an email source can be time consuming for the individual and a fair amount of technical knowledge is needed to use the software. An ISP could organise automatic tracing to check that a supplied ISP address is correct. This would gradually prevent spam emailers from hiding away from disgusted recipients. The legislation that I propose would not affect responsible organisations that comply with requests for removal from mailing lists
If this sort of law was introduced in Britain, I am sure that the legislators in other countries would soon introduce similar legislation because spamming has become the curse of the internet email service world-wide.
I was at a Science Fiction (SF) convention in Sweden during the weekend 15th/16th June. I was asked by an organiser of a future Swedish SF convention to leave out an email address from my web page advertising future SF conventions because of the spamming problem. The extent of the spamming problem was brought home to me with vengeance when I returned from Sweden. My ISP (ntl) informed me that I had 56 emails when I logged on to the service. 52 of these emails were spam. Only four were emails that I was happy to receive.
I have set up my Netscape Messenger service to filter out a lot of unwanted emails. The filters redirect these from my Inbox to a "Spam" folder. This is only partially effective because I first have to see the subject and the contents of a spam email to be able to set up a filter to prevent a similar email appearing in my Inbox in future.
I have also produced a copyright notice stating that I claim the copyright for the information on my web pages including the email addresses of those who are the contacts for the conventions on my list. The text is too long to include here but you may wish to view it on my convention list page at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/wilf.james/i_conlist.htm.
I hope that you will be able to discuss my proposal with other
MPs to see if it would be possible to introduce a law in Britain
that includes the following:
1. All mass emailers must include the address of the ISP that they use in plain text in the emails they send.
2. All British ISPs must automatically reject any mass emails that do not include a valid ISP address.
3. All British ISPs must use tracing software to confirm that the source ISP address supplied with a mass email is correct.
The following is an extract from an email that I sent to my MP's secretary when I received an email reply to my letter.
An Irish (Eire) convention no longer supplies an email address for publication on a website because of this problem. I have tried to counter this temporarily with new email addresses on my website by changing the vowels in an address to accented versions. As an example, my email address could be converted to:
wïlf.jämés@ntlwörld.com (This has been changed since I sent the email to wïlf.jämés§ntlwörld.com)
This change would make any automatic selection of an email address invalid but it would not fool an intelligent person who was aware of the way it had been changed.
I have received a lot of support for my idea of forcing mass emailers to include the address of the internet service that they use to make them more traceable. If this is combined with a requirement that all British internet service providers will reject mass emails that do not have a valid internet service provider's address, the spamming problem in Britain could be reduced substantially.
If you have a look at my convention list page you will see that I provide a free service that is hopefully of benefit to those in the science fiction related communities throughout the world. The non-spam emails that I receive generally indicate that my convention listing service is widely appreciated. It would be a shame if the usefulness of the service was curtailed by the actions of spammers.
I do hope that Mr. Heald can help to do something about the spamming problem with emails. If Britain can take action unilaterally, a vast number of spam emails will be blocked at our electronic borders. If the blocking process works as I think it will, other countries will quickly follow Britain's example. My proposals will only impose a very small restriction on the freedom of communication that the internet provides while freeing it from the actions of those who misuse the service.
I cannot be certain how the internet service providers will
react to the requirement that they will have to block all mass
mailings that do not include a valid source ISP address. However,
I am sure that they would like to have their email services freed
from thousands of unwanted and sometimes offensive emails. Most
spammers rely on maintaining their
anonymity. My proposals would deprive them of their hiding places.