The problem of spam hardly needs an introduction. It is a time-waster for recipients. It has its sinister side in the form of V-spam and phishing. And it consumes infrastructure resources -- especially bandwidth. The only real solution available today is blocking: either at the recipients' premises or, sometimes, at the recipients' ISP. But this feels very much like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted and there must be a better alternative.
In the short term, I believe the onus is on ISPs, the Government and all other interested parties to stem spam at source. It is depressing to read that the UK is considered an ideal location for spammers. Our infrastructure is good -- which works to our disadvantage -- and our judicial system makes the chances of perpetrators being caught extremely low. Even if they are caught, current penalties are woefully inadequate.
Many anti-spam campaigners believe that beefing up the legislation is the way to go, but I fear this will take ages. And the measures that have already been taken seem quite inappropriate. Recent legislation makes a distinction between unsolicited email that is sent to private addresses, and that which is sent to businesses -- with only the former being deemed illegal.
I suspect that behind the decision to allow emails to flow into businesses in a more or less unrestricted fashion is the telemarketing industry for which, of course, email is an excellent tool. But it is perverse that individuals -- for whom emails are rarely critical -- are being protected against spam, while businesses have been given no protection. It is here, where genuinely critical messages can become lost and delayed in the deluge of unsolicited mail, and mechanisms such as V-spam can cause real damage.
What's the solution? Initially, some legislation against spamming businesses would at least send out a message that the UK is not a soft touch for spammers, even if this takes a while to come into effect. And I don't believe the Government should worry about taking on comments from the whole community before acting. Better to take unilateral action and then deal with anomalies as they occur.
In the longer term, however, the concept of charging for the whole email infrastructure gets my vote. The price must be pegged at a level that isn't an inhibitor for people who genuinely want to communicate: the sort of business or individual who used to be happy putting a stamp on an envelope or paying a phone bill.
And what about freedom of speech? Unfortunately my suggestion is contrary to the original essence and spirit of the internet, but time has moved on. The internet is no longer a curiosity, but an essential part of our business infrastructure. Its provision and control needs to be handled in a professional and scaleable fashion. Undoubtedly the creation of a billing system for email is no mean task, but it is already being done for conventional telephones and mobiles -- which are on a similar scale.
All that is needed now is the will for it to happen.
Bob Jones is managing director of Equiinet