The arrest of a man accused of sending millions of ads for an Internet site is raising questions about the legal boundaries of spam e-mail, which Japan’s bombarded public has dubbed “nuisance mail.”

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the 45-year-old South Korean national, identified as Yoshiaki Cho, was detained on Oct. 1 for allegedly deluging mobile phone users with more than 3 million e-mails touting his dating and adult entertainment Web site.

The mail caused a data logjam that froze computers at Plala, a Tokyo-based Internet service provider, and Cho is being held for obstructing the server’s business.

The case underscores a growing problem in Japan with spam, popularly known as “meiwaku may-ru,” or nuisance mail.

Most of the spam affects the country’s 60 million mobile phone users, since about 90 percent of all Internet-linked Japanese go online via their phones.

In fiscal 2002, NTT DoCoMo, the country’s largest mobile phone service provider, received 200,000 complaints about spam, and in recent months the numbers have been on the rise, company spokesman Yoshiki Kono said.

But many more incidents go unreported.

Responding to this mounting anger, the Diet passed a law in July to control the flood of unsolicited e-mail. All ads are required to be identified as promotional material and must offer recipients a choice of being removed from the marketer’s mailing list, a system known as opt-out.

An industry group and the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry issue warnings to companies that do not provide the option or ignore recipients’ requests.

If the problem persists, police may launch an investigation.

But officials admit that the process can take months.

“The entire procedure is very time-consuming,” said ministry official Toshimasa Yamamoto.

Cho’s arrest came about seven months after Plala’s computer servers went down. Cho had fired off the e-mail ads between March 4 and 11 from his personal computer at his home in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, police said.

It was unclear how much the problem cost Plala to rectify, and company officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Police also took action because Cho allegedly hid his return address in the mails, thus violating the July law.

Industry groups say oversight remains lax despite the new laws.

Takeya Suda of the Japan Telemarketing Association said his group, like others, doesn’t have jurisdiction over companies that aren’t members.

First-time offenders among the association’s 200-odd members are usually given a second chance, he said.

“Only after it’s happened repeatedly is any action taken,” Suda said.

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