Britain Bans Unsolicited Spam E-Mail

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Spammers beware. Britain has announced that those sending unsolicited e-mail must get recipients' agreement in advance. Violators will be subject to fines of 5,000 pounds (US$8,000) or more and possible lawsuits from those they've targeted.

The rule, aimed at shrinking the heavy traffic of junk e-mail messages (search), also applies to unsolicited text messages sent to mobile phones, the government said Thursday.

It makes an exception in cases where the sender and recipient have done business with one another in the past, so companies will still be allowed to contact former customers with new offers and other information, the Department of Trade and Industry (search) said.

"These regulations will help combat the global nuisance of unsolicited e-mails and texts by enshrining in law rights that give consumers more say over who can use their personal details," Communications Minister Stephen Timms said in announcing the new regulations.

But the government won't be able to touch bulk e-mailers who target Britons from outside the country, and spammers' anonymity may make it hard to impose fines even on those operating in Britain.

The ban applies only to individual addressees, not businesses. The Trade and Industry department said businesses told officials they wanted to continue receiving electronic solicitations.

Britain issued the new rules to comply with a European Union (search) directive that requires member states to act against spam by Oct. 31. The government introduced the new rules Thursday and they will come into force on Dec. 11.

Violators will be subject to fines of up to 5,000 pounds (US$8,000) if a complaint against them is resolved by a low-level magistrates court or an unlimited fine if the case goes to a jury, the Trade and Industry department said. Those who have been damaged by illegal spam will have the right to sue, it added.

The new rules also limit companies' ability to use "cookie" files and other devices which let them obtain information about users who visit their Web sites. Companies will now be required to ask users' permission before taking such data and retaining or selling it.

The new regulations also include an extension of a rule announced last year that allows individuals to bar telemarketers from calling them. Now businesses can choose not to receive such calls, the government said.

The Australian government announced even tougher plans to crack down on spam Thursday, proposing to fine those who send unsolicited messages up to A$1.1 million (US$726,000) a day.