Key Points:

Spam has been the bane of computer users throughout the world, and international authorities are pointing the finger at New Zealanders for playing a large part in it.

The unsolicited emails arrive in huge volumes advertising a range of questionable products such as sex-enhancing pills.

Even with new filtering technology, they can quickly clog up computer systems, so New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs has taken court action, for the first time using new anti-spam laws, against a trio of New Zealanders.

Christchurch men Shane Atkinson and Roland Smits, and Mr Atkinson's brother, Lance, a New Zealand citizen living in Australia, are named in a civil case lodged in the High Court at Christchurch.

Internal Affairs wants the court to impose $200,000 penalties on each of them.

It alleges the Atkinson brothers and Mr Smits were involved in sending more than two million emails marketing pharmaceuticals to New Zealand addresses alone between September and December last year, earning sales commissions of more than $3 million.

But their influence is alleged to have spread far further. US authorities, who worked with Internal Affairs on the case, have linked the trio's operation to what they say may be the world's largest spam network.

Using companies registered overseas, Internal Affairs claims the trio worked together to market products including adult sex toys and replica watches by spam.

Shane Atkinson and Mr Smits declined to speak to the Weekend Herald this week.

Shane Atkinson is no stranger to such allegations, having been exposed as a spammer in 2003. He proclaimed at the time that he would give up spamming.

The United States' Federal Trade Commission is taking its own legal action against alleged spammers, including Lance Atkinson. It holds him responsible for all product claims in spam he is linked to and has frozen his assets.

In June 2005, the commission obtained a $2.2 million judgment against him and a business partner for running a spam operation that marketed herbal products.

Keith Davidson, executive director of lobby group Internet New Zealand, said the court action was a great example of the new anti-spamming laws in action.

UNWANTED EMAIL
* Between 120 billion and 140 billion spam messages are sent worldwide every day.
* Products marketed include herbal pills claimed to improve sexual performance or assist weight loss and adult sex toys.
* Internet New Zealand says 94 per cent of the email it receives is filtered out as spam.