Spam agreement between US and EU may be on the way

The chairwoman of the European Parliament’s European Internet Foundation said Wednesday she believes the U.S. Congress and its European Union counterpart will come up with an agreement to prosecute spammers across international borders.

The U.S. and European Union stand at a critical juncture for fighting unsolicited commercial e-mail, as the U.S. Congress considers antispam legislation and the European Commission this week has promised concrete action on spam by late this year, said Erika Mann, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany.

Mann was among a group of nine MEPs talking to congressional leaders and U.S. federal agencies in Washington, D.C., this week about working together on technology issues.

“If you don’t get international agreement on this issue, you will never solve it,” said Mann, during an interview after a press conference with members of the Congressional Internet Caucus. “We want to go after those (spammers) who are operating illegally.”

As Congress considers antispam legislation, critics have suggested that U.S. legislation will do little to stem the tide of spam coming from other countries. But Mann said Europeans are just as fed up with spam as U.S. residents are, and she believes the U.S. and European Union will soon come to an agreement that leads to enforcement of spam laws on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The spam law enforcement agreement would then “set the standard for the rest of the world,” Mann said.

In May 2002, the European Parliament passed antispam legislation requiring companies to receive consumer opt-in permission before sending them commercial e-mail. Three bills that have gotten hearings in the U.S. Congress since May all require consumers to send opt-out requests to companies sending them e-mail, but Mann said the different approaches shouldn’t hinder an enforcement agreement between the U.S. and European Union.

“I’m not sure if the opt-in or the opt-out is the best,” Mann said. Although the European Union prefers an opt-in approach, it and the U.S. are closer to agreement on spam and other Internet issues than on many other issues, she said.

The MEPs only had a few minutes to speak with some members of Congress Wednesday afternoon because of a late vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, but Mann said her group will push for an international agreement on enforcing spam laws.

U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia and co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus, didn’t talk at length about spam at the joint press conference, but he said the U.S. and European Union need to work more closely together on a variety of technology issues, including spam, piracy, and Internet taxation.

“The Internet is the greatest challenge to the sovereignty of nations and states in the history of mankind,” he said, noting that countries have to work together in order to overcome these issues.

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