Spam Task Force Delivers Report to Government

Canada’s national spam task force today delivered its report to Industry Minister David Emerson. I was a member of the task force and served as the co-chair of the law and regulatory working group.

I’ll have more to say about the task force report soon, but I do want to provide a comment on the law and enforcement recommendations, which will likely generate the most amount of interest. The task force helped facilitate a series of cases (including my own privacy complaint against the Ottawa Renegades over unsolicited commercial email they sent me) to test the current Canadian legal framework. Quite simply, the task force concluded that the current laws are not good enough. While Canada alone is not able to deal with the spam problem, we must at least deal with the spammers in our own backyard. The current legal framework contains some significant holes and the recommendations call for a spam-specific law accompanied by a new separate body to work on policy and enforcement coordination.

The most important statutory recommendation is a call for a new rule in a spam-specific law that would make it an offence to fail to abide by an opt-in regime for sending unsolicited commercial email. This would set a critical baseline for Canada — opt-in (as compared to the U.S. opt-out approach) with penalties. It also sends a clear message that PIPEDA, the national privacy legislation, is simply ill-equipped to deal with the most serious spam issues.

The task force also concluded that new legal provisions are needed to address issues such as false or misleading headers, dictionary attacks, and the harvesting of email addresses. It also called for the establishment of a private right of action to help facilitate suits against Canadian spammers. Taken together, the spam-specific statute would be far more robust than the current legal framework and would send an important message to law enforcement that this is a serious issues that demands action.

While there are 22 recommendations in the task force report, in my view the success of this initiative will depend upon the government’s ability to act on the eight recommendations focused on a strong new stand alone spam specific law and an effective coordinating mechanism to make the new system work. That won’t be easy given the current governmental uncertainty, but there were encouraging words today from Minister Emerson. More on the report in the days ahead…

Update: The Toronto Star has additional coverage on the release of the report.

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