MPs in the All Party Internet Group believe the problem of spam, which is expected to account for 50% of all e-mail by 2004, is becoming so serious that drastic action may be needed to protect businesses and to ensure that consumers are not deterred from using the internet.
"We are going to look at whether it is possible to control those ISPs that refuse to control spammers. I think to say to an ISP that is allowing millions of spams a day 'we are going to turn you off' is perfectly justifiable," said Liberal Democrat MP Richard Allen.
Junk e-mail, which is growing at a rate of 1,000% a year, already costs European businesses Û2.5bn (£1.5bn) in lost productivity, according to estimates from Microsoft. About 19% of spam is pornography, according to research from Brightmail.
The All Party Internet Group plans to look for industry-led solutions to the problem of spam, and to encourage ISPs in the US and the Far East, where many unsolicited e-mails originate, to learn from the best practice adopted by UK ISPs.
The investigation's findings will be passed on to the Department of Trade & Industry, which last week finished consulting on the draft European Electronic Communications Data Protection Directive, which contains measures to protect consumers from spam.
The ISP Association said it was in the interests of ISPs to fight spam and rejected Allen's calls for penalties against ISPs that fail to keep it under control.
"ISPs are in a constant battle with spam. It is an ongoing problem with every ISP. It affects their mail servers and their bandwidth. People blame the ISPs but it is the people spamming who should be liable. ISPs don't want spammers on their networks. An ISP with spam on its network will not be held in high esteem by its customers," said a spokesman for the ISP Association.
Legal experts said it was not clear whether the European directive, which restricts marketing companies in Europe from sending unsolicited mail unless consumers opt-in, will offer any legal protection to business e-mail addresses.
Tamzin Matthew, a lawyer with Morgan Cole, said companies should install good spam filtering software and educate employees not to use their work e-mail accounts to log into external websites and to delete spam e-mails without replying to them.
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