Alston declares war on spam

After a shaky start, Communications and IT Minister Senator Richard Alston has publicly backed the National Office of the Information Economy's antispam drive by vowing that Australian spammers will be thoroughly prosecuted under his new antispam regime.

Addressing the annual conference of the Australian Broadcasting Authority in Canberra, Alston seemed intent on sending a strong signal to a variety of heavyweight broadcast and content players that he is keen to get runs on the board in terms of antispam action as soon as legally permissable.

"Spamming in Australia will not be tolerated and will be punished wherever possible," Alston declared, adding that the government "will be attacking spam on several levels - combining legislation, industry collaboration, international cooperation, the assistance of partner agencies, and public education".

Alston's rhetoric, the strongest on spam so far, appears to signal that some funding may be freed-up for new legislative and enforcement activities in the forthcoming budget. A very senior media source present at the conference told Computerworld that, "The penny has finally dropped over there that it's a vote winner. It's got it all - wowserism, law enforcement and pornography… you really can't go far wrong with this stuff. Who the hell wants their kids offered genital-enhancing drugs with their e-mail."

Even so, Alston was careful to inject a dose of caution into the speech regarding any blanket regulation, saying that the government was aware of the crucial involvement that online services played in the future social and economic development in Australia.

"All the more reason to approach the issue of content regulation with care and caution. We want to maximise the benefits the Internet can deliver, but we also need to make it clear that this participation carries with it some element of responsibility."

The communications minister also sent up a balloon that the government's patience could be limited when it comes to restricting popular new technology, such as TiVo or personal video recorders, to protect free-to-air broadcaster's profits.

"Developments in consumer equipment such as personal video recorders may also pose potential challenges for broadcasters, but at the same time may offer opportunities for new services. I think the question of whether PVRs (personal video recorders) are 'friend or foe' is on your agenda today. As always in this industry, it depends on who's talking."

A spokesman for Senator Alston firmly denied that the minister had recently been provided with, or used a TiVo, or any sort of PVR for government evaluation purposes or otherwise.

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