Opt-out spam laws enter effect in Japan

Two opt-out antispam laws took effect in Japan on Monday, making it illegal for companies to send mail to recipients who have asked them not to. Spam (unsolicited commercial e-mail) has become a social problem since wireless Internet users started receiving large amounts of it sent randomly by vendors over a year ago.

One law, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (MPHPT), makes spam legal as long as it meets certain conditions. The other is an amendment to the commercial code, submitted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Both were legislated in April and entered effect on July 1.

The two laws obligate commercial e-mail senders to state "this is an advertisement that has not been consented to or requested by the recipient" in every e-mail title and to state the sender's name, address and contact number or email address at the beginning of each e-mail message.

If the recipient requests the sender not to send any more of commercial e-mail, the sender will be prohibited to send commercial e-mail to the same recipient again.

The MPHPT law also prohibits spammers from sending e-mail messages to random e-mail addresses, and allows telecommunication carriers to refuse to distribute such e-mail to their customers. This became a problem last year when spammers realized they could send e-mail directly to addresses of the form "telephone number @ service provider." The MPHPT law also obligates telecommunication carriers to research and develop measures to prevent further spam and disclose information regarding spam measures to their customers.

Both new laws impose penalties on senders who do not follow the rules. Fines of up to ¥500,000 (US$4,180) are possible under the MPHPT law, and up to ¥3 million or up to two years in prison under METI's rules. If the sender is a corporation, the fine can be as much as ¥300 million.

These laws can be applied to both the wireless Internet services on mobile phones and fixed Internet services on PCs.