Spam (bulk, unsolicited commercial e-mail) has run into trouble as the European Commission attempts to modify existing rules regulating the processing of personal data in the electronic-communications sector.

Under a draft text that must still be finalised, the Commission plans to ban the sending of all e-mail to subscribers who have not indicated that they want to receive such e-mail.

The proposal would end the use of e-mail 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 and companion proposals that would make up a new legislative framework for the telecommunications sector in the EU.

The Commission held the hearings to help it 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. Currently, consumers have to pay to keep a private phone number out of a directory.

The spam proposals reflect concern about the rapid growth of what is widely described as a nuisance.

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

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