Spam Act mixed success: ACMA

$22.25 million in spam fines in last financial year

The Spam Act 2003 has proved successful in combating the proliferation of unwanted emails in Australia but has limited benefit for combating international spam, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

In a Senate hearing, ACMA’s Digital Economy division general manager, Nerida O'Loughlin, said while the act had some benefits for the agency in dealing with Australian-generated spam, it was lacking when it came to dealing with overseas-based material.

“While the spam act has given us some good strong powers to deal with things domestically, and that is where we have used those quite strongly in court action we have taken over the past couple of years, I think it is fair to say that in dealing with things that emanate from outside the country that always presents a problem for us jurisdictionally as well as practically,” O'Loughlin said.

According to the ACMA, in the last financial year alone the agency had collected penalties totalling $22.25 million for violations of the spam act plus “numerous” injunctions against spammers.

As of June this year, some 5.04 million people were also on the Do Not Call Register list.

The comments follow a day’s inquiry by the Senate into the adequacy of online privacy protections. During the session, the inquiry also heard from Liberty Victoria vice president, Georgia King-Siem, who argued that “informed and free consent” was difficult to obtain online.

“Yes, I think it is possible [to obtain], but you have to be wary about blithely saying ‘there has been open and informed consent for this’ when in fact there may not have been,” she said.

“As a condition of service a lot of the time, where you have no other choice for that service, that is not what I would call consent in a free and open manner.

“Where you have choice of providers, and you don’t like the terms and conditions, then you can go to another [provider] as you would have in a normal market place. Where you do not have that choice, or where that information is deemed to be essential, I would argue there isn’t the same level of consent there.”

King-Siem said services such as Facebook were good examples of the problem.

“In order to have that account, if you wish to interact with 95 per cent of your friends who are on there, then you are consenting to an awful lot of things with your data that you don’t know what is happening with it,” she said.

King-Siem also argued that the collection of so-called ‘anonymous’ web browsing history for the purpose of marketing also had privacy implications and had the ability to identify individuals.

“If you take a web user — what would be alleged as an anonymous web users’ browsing history — but if you only have one person living at a particular address, then that effectively means it is personal information, as it is identifiable or ascribable to a particular person,” she said.

The inquiry also heard from the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General's Department in private sessions.

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