Oman’s draft anti-spam regulations

By Riyadh Al Balushi

The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Oman recently opened a public consultation to initiate discussion on new anti-spam regulations.

A report issued by Symantec last year revealed that the Gulf Sultanate of Oman receives the highest proportion of spam in the world, with a staggering rate of 81.9 per cent. As a response to the report, the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) of Oman has decided to address the issue of spam in the country and is now in the process of drafting new anti-spam regulations.

Spam has been a growing problem in Oman due to the realization by many companies that advertisements may easily be pushed to large numbers of people simultaneously and at relatively low costs. Many companies see this as an opportunity to promote their products, but from the point of view of consumers, this may constitute a breach of their privacy and disrupt the usage of e-mail and SMS. Spam messages can be repetitive, irrelevant, sent at inappropriate times, difficult to block and make it difficult for users to reach messages that they actually need or want to read.

The current law in Oman does not provide individuals with the right to stop others from sending them unsolicited advertisements. The Telecommunications Act, issued under the Royal Decree No. 30/2002, prohibits untrue or harmful messages from being transmitted but does not contain provisions on unsolicited advertisements. The Basic Law of the Sultanate of Oman guarantees many rights for individuals, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to religious freedom, but does not contain provisions on privacy as a right for individuals.

Under the draft regulations, businesses will be required to obtain the explicit consent of any person to whom they intend to send commercial messages using any medium. However, there may be no need for explicit consent if an existing relationship that naturally shows no objection on the part of the recipient can be established between the sender and recipient. Such relationships would include the employer-employee relationship or the relationship between hospitals, schools or universities and their visitors. Even in such circumstances, individuals will have the right to choose to stop receiving messages and an offence would be committed if a message is sent after an individual has indicated his or her wish to opt out.

The draft regulations also provide that the transmission of a single unsolicited message without the prior consent of the recipient will be considered spam. Individuals may also refer complaints to the TRA for consideration and to take necessary legal procedures, which may entail criminal and administrative penalties if violations of the provisions of the regulations are proved. The draft regulations also provide guidelines on the contents of legitimate commercial messages including the size and title of the message, which must include words such as “Commercial” or “Ad”.

Although it may be impossible to prevent spam messages from being transmitted at all, it is a huge step forward for Oman to have in place anti-spam regulations. These regulations would enhance the confidence of individuals in businesses and e-services, ensure that businesses with a digital, electronic or social media presence are once again able to continue using electronic messaging services as an effective means to promote products and services and communicate with their customers and protect telecommunications networks and the quality of telecommunications services.

There is no any guarantee as to whether these regulations will officially be passed and no indication as to how long it may take for these regulations to be put in place. If and when they do come, these regulations would surely fill a serious gap in the regulatory framework for the telecommunications sector in Oman.

About the author

Riyadh Al Balushi
Riyadh is a Muscat-based lawyer who works with the Ministry of Legal Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman. His role includes advising the government prior to entry into international treaties, reviewing contracts and issuing legal opinions for other governmental entities. Riyadh was a member of the expert team responsible for drafting the Unified Law for Combating Cybercrime, which was adopted by the Gulf Cooperation Council and government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He is fluent in Arabic and English and has experience in negotiating and drafting documents in both languages. Riyadh may be reached at riyadhalbalushi[at]gmail.com.