Nigeria--with its global notoriety as a base for criminals exploiting the reach of the Internet--is considering making spamming a criminal offense that could land senders of unsolicited e-mails in jail for three years.
"Any person spamming electronic messages to recipients with whom he has no previous relationship commits an offense," said the text of the draft law presented to the legislature this week.
A person found guilty risks either at least three years in jail, a fine equal to US$3,500 (about euro3,000), or both.
The bill must be approved by a simple majority of lawmakers to become law. It stands a good chance. It was introduced by the governing party, which has an overwhelming majority in both houses of parliament.
Africa's most populous country is known for its "advance fee" scamsters--criminals scouting for victims by sending millions of unsolicited e-mails with false proposals around the world.
Among the most common are e-mails proposing to share portions of dead African dictators' ill-gotten estates in exchange for an advance payment to help move the money overseas. The scammers keep the "fees" while victims receive nothing.
The proposed law specifically identifies use of computers for spamming, fraud, identity theft, child pornography, and terrorism as criminal offenses punishable by stiff jail terms and fines.
Richard Cox, spokesman for the watchdog organization Spamhaus, welcomed the bill--but noted Nigerian law already outlaws the fraud schemes circulated on the Internet, but those e-mails keep coming.
"I'm very encouraged to see them taking the step," Cox said. "But I want to see them enforce it."
Also Friday, Nigeria signed an agreement with Microsoft Corp. to work together to fight Internet crime.
In a statement on its Web site, Microsoft hailed the agreement as a first with an African country and said it will work with the Nigerian government "to combat issues such as spam, financial scams ... spyware, viruses, worms, malicious code launches and counterfeiting."
Nuhu Ribadu, head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, signed the agreement on behalf of the government, said Wilson Uwajeren, the agency's spokesman in Lagos. He gave no other details.
President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose election in 1999 ended more than 15 years of corrupt military rule in oil-rich Nigeria, has made the fight against corruption and financial crime in the country a key plank of his government, now in its second four-year term.
Computer users around the world see spam--unsolicited, e-mailed advertisements--as a growing nuisance.
The European Union in 2003 banned all commercial e-mail unless a recipient has asked for it, but the regulation must be approved by each national parliament to become effective.
The U.S. Congress and more than three dozen U.S. state legislatures have passed laws to try to contain spam.
Argentina, Australia, Canada and Japan are among other countries that have taken legal steps against spam, according to a Web site maintained by David Sorkin, an Illinois law professor who tracks the issue.
Anti-spam laws "can be effective. But without the right structure and enforcement, they can be totally ineffective," said Cox of Spamhaus, which help Internet networks guard against spam and law enforcement pursue those who produce it.