The European Commission will crack down on spam when it attempts to modify existing rules regulating the processing of personal data in the electronic-communications sector.

Under a draft text, which must still be finalized, the Commission plans to ban the sending of all email to subscribers who have not indicated they want to receive such email.

The proposal would end the use of email for direct marketing purposes, according to Laurence Djolakian, speaking on behalf of the Federation of European Direct Marketing (FEDMA) at a public hearing on the proposal.

Europe wide This legislation and companion proposals will make up a new legislative framework for the telecommunications sector in the EU. The Commission held the hearings to help shape the final proposals, which will be sent to Member States at the end of June.

"We are extremely worried by the amendments," Djolakian said.

The proposal is designed to ensure the highest levels of data privacy for consumers using electronic communications. It amends existing rules, dating from 1997, that give consumers the right to block the collection of data about their usage and location when using electronic communications. It would also give consumers the right to determine which telephone number - mobile, fixed or both - would be placed in directories.

Annoying The spam proposals reflect concern about the rapid growth of what is widely described as a nuisance. Spam is bulk, unsolicited commercial email. During the hearing, Joe McNamee, a spokesman for the European Internet Service Providers' Association, estimated that the average US consumer will receive 1,600 unsolicited email messages each year by 2005.

Representatives from a host of other companies, including AOL Europe, Telefonica SA, Bertelsmann AG, KPN NV and BT also voiced concern over the spam ban at the hearing.

Simon Hampton of AOL Europe said: "Neither the opt-in, nor opt-out provisions will stop spammers. The only way the US has been successful in stopping the practice is by challenging the spammers for abusing an ISP's (Internet service provider's) services."