SINGAPORE: Anti-spam law means culprits face civil action

Spam Control Bill requires businesses to label advertisements in e-mails and SMS messages as 'ADV'

Straits Times
Friday, April 13, 2007

A new law requires businesses in Singapore to tag "ADV," for advertisement, on all e-mail and SMS messages they send to people here.

But this move against spamming still gives businesses here room to market their products and services electronically because of the opt-out approach Singapore is adopting.

With this approach, businesses can use such marketing means unless the recipients opt not to receive their messages.

This approach balances the needs of companies to send unsolicited messages to reach out to potential customers with consumer interests, said Dr Lee Boon Yang, the Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, yesterday.

"We are starting with a light-touch approach with more focus on industry self-regulation," he added.

Dr Lee was speaking during debate on the Spam Control Bill which was later passed by Parliament.

He said e-mail spam cost users here $23 million in productivity loss, and each of the three major local Internet service providers receive close to 5,000 spam-related complaints a month.

But the new law will not stop all spam mail overnight, Dr Lee said, as four out of five spam messages received here are from overseas.

"However, this does not mean that we should do nothing," he said, explaining that the new law will bring Singapore a step closer to tackling a worldwide menace.

"As more countries enact legislation to deal with spam, the spammers will be on the lookout for a new base, new havens to operate from."

Singapore is vulnerable as spammers tend to target countries with advanced infocomm connectivity and without anti-spam legislation.

So, Dr Lee added, "we should not allow ourselves to inadvertently become a spammer's haven. A spam control law will signal our readiness to address the global problem of spam."

It will further help maintain Singapore's standing as a trusted infocomm hub, he said.

The prospect of court-ordered financial compensation would deter indiscriminate spammers, he added.

But the minister acknowledged that the law alone was not enough to stop spamming, a point highlighted by several of the six MPs who commented on the legislation.

Among them was Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who said that public education, industry self-regulation and cooperation among countries were just as important in fighting the growing scourge.

And they have to be pursued at the same time, she added.

Dr Lee, agreeing with Mr Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), said: "Education is the best way to fight spam."

For instance, users should know that they can install anti-spam filters on their computers.

During the debate, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Marine Parade GRC) said he favoured an opt-in provision. With such a provision, marketing messages can go only to those who agree to get them.

But Dr Lee said the law had configured the opt-out process to be as consumer-friendly as possible.

Madam Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC) said computers could be hacked into and used to send spam.

Dr Lee said such serious offences could be dealt with under the Computer Misuse Act.

The new spam law, he added, should be seen as an addition to existing laws which guard against the abuse of technology.

This was why it provided only for civil action, as spam sent with a fraudulent or malicious intent was already defined as a criminal offence under the Computer Misuse Act.

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore will monitor the spam situation and if necessary, the law may be amended in future "so that we can have a more effective regime to address this growing problem," he said.