By Dominique Herman
Members of the public are poised to become spammer bounty hunters since several Internet associations clubbed together to offer substantial rewards for the successful prosecution of those who fill up email inboxes with junk mail.
Despite legislation against spammers, there had, until now, been no incentive to report spam, according to Internet Society of South Africa chairman Alan Levin.
Internet service providers have technological ways of dealing with junk mail but there is "a big gap in getting citizens to play a civil role", he said. For an admission of guilt fine, R7 500 will be awarded to the successful litigant, R15 000 for a conviction in a magistrate's court and R30 000 for a conviction in the high court. To get the reward, however, will involve following up with police and prosecutors until the spammer is convicted.
"The problem with spam is that it hurts everybody, but it hurts everybody very little," Levin said. "As a result, not many people report spam," he said.
The financial cost of spam - which in South African law is defined as any unsolicited commercial communication to consumers - is shared between the sender and the recipient, Levin said. Each additional second spent downloading unwanted email costs money, either for the cost of the telephone connection with dial-up service or for the bandwidth space used with a broadband connection.
Under legislation, spammers must stop sending mail to those who ask to be taken off a mailing list. Spammers are also, on request, required to provide recipients with the source from which their personal information came. Failing to do either is grounds for laying a charge with police.
The spam message must originate in South Africa, identifiable from its .za domain name, or its advertisement of local contact details or pricing.
For cellphone spam, consumers can lodge complaints on the website of the Wireless Application Service Providers' Association (Waspa) and the industry body will investigate and take action on their behalf.
Waspa chairperson Leon Perlman said new data protection legislation, if passed, would make the sale of mailing lists illegal. And the National Credit Act would effectively outlaw financial telemarketers who do not have your consent to call, he said.
For more on becoming a spammer bounty hunter, go to wiki.isoc.org.za/Main_Page