- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 8, 2004

Government officials and anti-spam groups from more than 60 countries today will issue some of the first widely accepted guidelines on how nations can work together to stop the senders of spam, or junk e-mail.

After a three-day meeting held by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union in Geneva, countries working to fend off billions of spam messages will issue a report outlining how to streamline international cooperation in the fight against spam. Those attending the meeting said they are one step closer to signing a treaty that bans spam worldwide.

Talks yesterday centered on how countries can craft and enforce laws to cut down on spam, which makes up more than two-thirds of all e-mail sent worldwide, costing businesses billions of dollars in services and lost productivity. The majority of spam now is sent or routed from one country to another, making the enforcement of most anti-spam laws nearly impossible without international cooperation.

“The challenge is not finding the illegal conduct; it is finding the wrongdoers and doing something effective about that,” said Hugh Stevenson, the Federal Trade Commission’s associate director for international consumer protection. “It can be a challenge because of the many systems we all have.”

Several countries, including the United States, touted the recent arrests of several spammers under their own laws and outlined the agreements they have signed that allow nations to help enforce each other’s anti-spam statutes. But those agreements, in most cases, have involved just two nations at a time and have yet to include developing countries that have few resources to throw at the spam problem.

Today’s report is expected to provide guidance on how countries can help each other find and prosecute spammers, while making investigations faster and less expensive.

“How do we decrease the cost of identifying spammers? We share information, we don’t step on each other toes, we don’t duplicate efforts,” said Matthew Prince, founder of Unspam, a Chicago company that has consulted on anti-spam legislation. “If one country is investigating a spammer, we have a network where we can share information on what needs to be done.”

Some people who attended the conference said they were concerned that the report will not present anything concrete or binding and will fall short of establishing rules that will get spam under control in two years, as some organizers had predicted this week. Other critics said the conference has been too focused on legislative, rather than technological, solutions to the spam problem.

“I need in your repertoire something clear to tell me what I am supposed to do,” said one frustrated Syrian government official. “Please tell us where to go. We need a conclusion. We don’t want to sit for three days with no conclusion.”

Ohers said this week’s conference was an encouraging start, because it was the first time that a group of this size has met to discuss the spam problem.

“It’s encouraging that the international community is coming together in these preliminary discussions and beginning to talk about a framework around which further cooperation can be built,” Mr. Prince said.

Officials said today’s report will not be the last word on international cooperation in fighting spam.

“I’d like to come back in a year when there’s an international treaty on the table that we sign,” said Derek Wyatt, a member of the British Parliament who spearheaded the creation of anti-spam legislation in the United Kingdom.