New Zealand’s Minister of Communications, David Cunliffe, hopes his soon-to-be-introduced antispam bill will be the foundation of an international antispam campaign.

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Bill will have its first reading in parliament later this year and Cunliffe is hopeful that it will be introduced into law by early 2006.

“But this is an election year so there are no guarantees at this stage”.

The bill lays out the maximum penalties for offences which include fines of up to NZ$500,000 (US$361,000) for companies caught sending spam and NZ$200,000 for individuals.

One posting to the New Zealand Network Operators Group discussion list questioned whether an opt-out approach is workable, pointing out that contacting spammers to ask to be removed from mailing lists simply tells them your account is active. Cunliffe says the New Zealand bill avoids that issue by taking an opt-in approach.

“Individuals should not be put in the position of having to contact a spammer to ask not to receive spam,” he says. “That just doesn’t work.”

Instead, Cunliffe says users who do receive unsolicited email from a company they haven’t dealt with should contact their ISP who will be required to act on the matter.

“If they can’t block it for whatever reason then it’s passed on to the Department of Internal Affairs which will have the powers to track and prosecute any spammers.”

Cunliffe says this makes the bill one of the most powerful legislative tools in the antispam campaign anywhere in the world.

“But it’s only part of the solution: it’s one of the three legs, the others being user education and the technical solution.”

The bill will also set out requirements relating to sender information, often a problem with spammers hiding behind zombie machines and fake addresses. However Cunliffe acknowledges the limited reach of this or indeed any legislation.

“It will really only be enforceable within New Zealand but by tidying up our own back yard we can then put pressure on other jurisdictions to follow suit.” Cunliffe says he’s discussed the issue with his Australian counterpart and hopes to build on that with talks between New Zealand, Australia, the UK and South Korea, among others.