Nigeria, home to some of the world's most notorious cyber crimes, has proposed a law making spamming a criminal offence for which senders of unsolicited emails could be jailed for at least three years.
The draft law identifies the use of computers for fraud, spamming, identity theft, child pornography and terrorism as criminal offences punishable by jail terms of between six months and five years, and fines of 10,000 naira ($77) to 1 million naira ($7,700).
Under the bill, which has to be approved by the National Assembly to become law, convicted spammers face jail terms of three to five years and could also be made to hand the proceeds of crime to the government.
"Any person spamming electronic messages to recipients with whom he has no previous relationship commits an offence," said a section of the draft law obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.
Under the proposed law, service providers who aid and abet cyber crimes and fail to cooperate with law enforcement agents could be fined between 500,000 and 10 million naira.
The draft law empowers law enforcement agents to enter and search any premises or computer and arrest any person in connection with an offence.
The advance fee email scam, known as "419" after the relevant section of the Nigerian Criminal Code, is a computer age version of a con game dating back hundreds of years and is sometimes called "The Spanish Prisoner."
Typically spammers send millions of unsolicited emails around the world promising recipients a share in a fortune in return for an advance fee. Those who pay wait in vain for the promised windfall.
President Olusegun Obasanjo has been keen to clean Nigeria's image as a country of spammers and one of the world's most corrupt nations since he was elected in 1999, ending 15 years of military rule in Africa's to oil producer.
He set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2003 to crack down on email fraudsters who had elevated scamming to one of the country's main foreign exchange earners after oil, natural gas and cocoa, according to campaigners.
The anti-fraud agency is investigating hundreds of suspects and prosecuting over 50 cases involving about 100 suspects.
The agency got its first major conviction in July when a court sentenced a woman whose late husband masterminded the swindling of $242 million from Brazilian Banco Noroeste S.A. between 1995 and 1998, one of the world's biggest email scams.
The agency signed a deal with Microsoft last week to help fight spamming, phishing, spyware, viruses and counterfeiting.