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Anti-spam update

01 Mar 10

Although the antics of rogue spammers continue to make IT industry news, a steady decline in spam complaints to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) since the New Zealand Government introduced anti-spam legislation two years ago indicates that the message that spam is illegal as well as annoying, is getting through.

Introduced in September 2007 with the dual aims of combating the growth of spam in New Zealand and preventing the country from becoming a legislative safe-haven for international spammers, the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 (the Act) prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages from, to or within New Zealand. Under the Act, electronic messages (including emails, instant messages, SMS and MMS, but not voice calls or faxes) promoting goods or services can be sent only to recipients who have given their consent to receive them. They must also include a facility for the recipient to unsubscribe and information identifying the sender.

Statistics published by the DIA, which is empowered by the Act to investigate and enforce breaches, show a sustained decline in the number of spam complaints received by them since numbers peaked in January 2008, shortly after the Act came into force.

If this indicates a decline in spamming activity within New Zealand, the trend might be attributed, at least in part, to the vigorous approach which has been taken by the DIA. Whilst its response to unintentional breaches by companies or individuals unaware of the laws is to educate rather than prosecute, it has taken a hard line on those who deliberately flout the law. Its investigation into the activities of New Zealander Lance Atkinson, who it established was responsible for a spamming operation that sent more than two million unsolicited emails to computers in New Zealand during 2008, resulted in the New Zealand courts imposing a fine of $NZ100,000. Atkinson hit the headlines again in December last year when, as the result of collaboration between the DIA and the US Federal Trade Commission, he was ordered by a US federal judge to pay $US15.5 million ($NZ21 million) for breach of US anti-spam laws.

Another story to have caught the popular imagination revolves around businessman and marketeer Brendan Battles. Dubbed the ‘Spam King’ by journalists, Battles has never actually been brought to court for spamming activity. However, he has been under investigation by the DIA in relation to an SMS spam campaign last year, accused by Yellow Pages both of unauthorised copying and sale of its database of New Zealand businesses in a case due to come to trial this year and, more recently, of offering the databases in question for sale using spam emails.

The DIA’s proactive stance has the support of industry within New Zealand as well as international enforcement agencies. The assistance of Vodafone, Telecom and TelstraClear in the Atkinson investigation reflects their concern as email and mobile service providers about the impact of spam on their customers’ experience of their services. Vodafone also referred to the DIA reports which appeared on its customer forum last year of an SMS, apparently originating from Battles’ company IMG, offering "a special Vodafone users offer" to tackle dropped calls and poor signal.

Whether the law catches up with Battles remains to be seen, but coverage of his and the Atkinson stories can only help to raise awareness, both amongst the public and the marketing profession, of the legal prohibitions on spamming in New Zealand.

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