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     FrontPage Edition: Thu 12 April 2007

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Spam Control Bill 2007 passed


Second Reading Speech on the Spam Control Bill 2007

by Dr Lee Boon Yang Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts.

Thurs, 12 April 2007

Mr Speaker, Sir, I beg to move, ¡°That the Bill be now read a Second time¡±.
Sir, digital communication is now an integral part of our lives, both at work and at home. We use email and sms routinely.
For an increasing number of Singaporeans, email and sms are default modes of communication. They are personal, convenient, fast and offer global reach.
These advantages also bring along a problem in the form of unsolicited emails and even sms-es.
This problem arises when large amount of emails are sent indiscriminately, a practice known as ¡°spamming¡±, causing network congestion, inundating users¡¯ inboxes and impeding the effectiveness of email and mobile messages as instantaneous communication channels.
Most of us would have received some form of unsolicited commercial electronic messages or ¡°spam¡± either through email or mobile telephone messages.
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) carried out a study1 in November 2003 and found that email spam caused Singapore users about $23 million in productivity loss. Users are burdened with the time-consuming task of separating the wheat from the chaff.
The study further revealed that each of the three major local internet service providers (or ISPs) received close to 5,000 spam-related complaints a month. The users interviewed perceived email spam as the second most important concern after computer viruses. This concern has not changed over time.
However in this digital age, email and mobile messages are also important means of business communication for reaching external stakeholders such as customers and suppliers.
In particular, electronic messages offer direct marketers an important and cost-effective means of reaching out to potential customers on a large scale. It is an important avenue for companies wanting to market their products or services directly and cheaply to potential consumers.
Approach adopted
Sir, spam is clearly an emergent global problem. In the process of formulating our response to address the spam issue here in Singapore, my Ministry has carefully studied the approaches adopted in various major benchmark jurisdictions including the US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
We note that even among the more advanced countries there is currently no standard solution.
In addressing the spam issue, many countries have realised that several measures have to be deployed. We are no different from countries that have taken steps to deal with spam ahead of us. We also need a multi-pronged approach including public education, industry self-regulation, international collaboration and last but not least legislation.
Sir, users can play a part in dealing with the spam problem by installing anti-spam filters and firewalls on their personal computers to filter out undesirable spam and to prevent spammers from turning vulnerable computers into spamming machines.
On the industry action front, IDA has worked with the Singapore Infocomms Technology Federation (SiTF) on public education efforts to raise public and industry awareness on spam and how to mitigate its impact.
Industry-wise, IDA is also working with the ISPs to set up self-regulation frameworks and the Direct Marketing Association of Singapore (DMAS) to formulate antispam and email marketing guidelines.
In the area of international collaboration, in 2004, Singapore joined 26 countries in an exercise to reduce the flow of spam internationally. Currently there are ongoing informal international collaborations between ISPs to address spamming incidents.
To strengthen the multi-pronged approach to combat spam, IDA conducted extensive public consultations in 2004 and 2005 with both the industry and the public on the proposal to enact legislation to deal with spam.
A total of 90 responses were received during the two public consultations. These public responses provided the support and contributed input for MICA to formulate the Spam Control Bill before the House today.
Spam-Specific Legislation
Sir, besides the importance of public education and industry efforts to curb spam, an anti-spam legislation is needed to discourage the proliferation of email and mobile spam.
Members of the House may ask whether we need such legislation when we already have the Computer Misuse Act and Telecommunications Act.
These existing laws govern serious and malicious offences such as denial-of-service attacks and severe disruptions to telecommunications infrastructure.
The typical volume of email and mobile messages generated by spammers usually do not result in such severe breakdown of services. Hence existing laws are not appropriate instruments to use against spam.
A more focussed approach is needed to signal that spamming is socially unacceptable and to preserve Singapore¡¯s status as a trusted infocomm hub for businesses and consumers.
I must however emphasise that this Bill is not a magic bullet to eradicate all spamming activities overnight.
The IDA¡¯s 2003 study showed that 4 out of every 5 spam received locally originates overseas. Our laws would thus only have a limited effect in addressing this problem.
However, this does not mean that we should do nothing. By putting in place this spam control legislation, my Ministry is not only acting to deter international spammers from exploiting Singapore¡¯s world-class telecommunications infrastructure as a base for spamming, but we are also stating clearly and unambiguously that Singapore is ready to address the global problem of spam in concert with other advanced infocomm nations of the world.
Details of the Bill
Defined Scope
Sir, please allow me now go into the details of the Bill.
The Spam Control Bill seeks to prevent local spammers from abusing direct marketing mechanisms.
The Bill sets out basic requirements for legitimate direct electronic mass marketing, and provides civil recourse for any affected persons against illegal spam with a Singapore link. A Singapore link exists, as stated in Clause 7 of the Bill, when for instance the message originates in Singapore, or if the recipient of the message is physically in Singapore.
Apart from email messages, the scope of the Bill also covers SMS (Short Message Service) messages and MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) messages sent to a mobile telephone number.
Given that the mobile telephone in today¡¯s context is a personalised device, mobile spam can be more intrusive than email spam. This was made quite clear during the public consultation on spam.
Fortunately, mobile spam is currently not a major problem in Singapore. However, consumer complaints have arisen from time to time to suggest that this channel could potentially be abused.
Today, we have very high mobile phone penetration rate in Singapore and the likelihood that the economics of sending SMS and MMS in bulk for marketing purposes may become increasingly cost-effective in the future. This suggest that we should address the problem of mobile spam proactively.
The inclusion of mobile spam within the scope of this legislation aims to promote the responsible use of mobile messaging services and stave off the undesirable proliferation of mobile spam in the future.
1 The study done in 2003 is only on email, not mobile

Source: Media Release 12 Apr 2007

Related Article:
- Legislation against spam to be put in place in Singapore

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