Australia Leads, Canada Dithers in Spam Fight

While Canada dithers in dealing with spam, Australia continues to lead.  Australia has taken an aggressive anti-spam approach and has been rewarded by dropping from the ranks of the country’s most responsible for spam.  Canadian governments have done little to deal with the issue and we consistently find ourselves ranked in the top ten of spam producing countries.

Now following on their tough anti-spam legislation (which was cited as a model for our National Task Force on Spam), comes news that the Australian Communications and Media Authority has registered a binding code on ISPs and email service providers that require them to take a series of steps to combat spam including making filters available and setting limits on outbound spam. Failure to abide by the code can result in fines up to $10 million.  In Canada, the best we have are a series of non-binding "best practices". 

There are no legal consequences for failing to abide by the best practices.  That’s the difference between a binding code and best practices.  It is also the difference between a country prepared to take action against spam and one that seemingly isn’t.


  1. Dangerous proposition
    SPAM is annoying and consumes resources. No doubt about it. Defining SPAM and setting fines for people who send it is one thing. But suggesting that the government should start legislating solutions to the SPAM problem, particularily ones that dictate measures that must be taken by ISPs or individuals, is going in the wrong direction.

    Do you realize that by doing that you are asking the government to legislate the beginings of a two-tiered internet? Getting the government involved in mandating certain content filtering technologies and practises at the ISP level is a recipe for disaster. Not to mention that it imposes even larger burdens that will stifle community, volunteer, and non-profit ISP initiatives.

    I’d rather run my own anti-spam software and hit delete every once in a while thank you. I think Australia has been getting more and more restrictive and backwards with internet and censorship lately. They are not model we should be following.

    I agree with you on copyleft stuff, but you are way out in right field on this one.

  2. Web developer
    I have seen precious little evidence of governments in Canada (federal, provincial or municipal) providing usable/accessible/well-organized/understandable/non-hideous/broadly-compatible web sites. Asking them to step in and tell us how to do email would be a comedy of errors.

    It would be easy, though; they’d mandate the use of whatever Microsoft was selling at the time, and then blame linux when it didn’t work.

    Can’t wait.

  3. Dangerous how?
    Amos: I really don’t see how you get a two teir internet out of this. It’s not like they are saying aloow spam through that pays to get through (like the ISP’s want). They are saying create rules to ban all spam.

  4. Walter Dnes says:

    Canada not that bad
    We’re not doing that badly. Here’s a list, in descending order by country, of email delivery attempts blocked by my spam blocking rules. Out of a total of of 5783 blocked delivery attempts during the month of March…

    CHINA 1280
    USA 1167
    KOREA 652
    BRAZIL 255
    FRANCE 203
    SPAIN 192
    UK 191
    INDIA 186
    TAIWAN 128
    JAPAN 122
    MEXICO 106
    CHILE 90
    GERMANY 88
    HOLLAND 85
    POLAND 79
    HONG KONG 66
    ROMANIA 60
    ITALY 56
    CANADA 50

    I don’t have faith in government. And *PUH-LEASE* let’s keep the CRTC out of this. The Ameriphobic control-freaks at the Commission for Repression and Though Control would jump on any excuse to erect an electronic Berlin Wall at the US border.

  5. Relevance to two-tier
    Two tier internet is about more than fees for guaranteed email delivery. It’s about ISPs creating two classes of customer and trying to get in the middle of online business models. Rather than be simple carriers of bits with a cost per bit, they want to start charging different rates depending on the type of information and whether anyone is making money out of it. They want to be able to get some of Google’s pie, and they want to hold their customers ransom for it.

    How does SPAM legislation affect this? Well… as I said, if we’re talking about making a law that says it’s illegal to intentionally originate SPAM. Then it doesn’t. But what Michael appears to be calling for is for the government to step in and give ISPs some rules on how they must deal with SPAM, an impose financial liabilities if it failes to deal with something deemed SPAM even if its their customer who should be held responsible, not them.

    How will ISPs respond? Well, they’ll want to cover their butts. And they’ll need to charge more to run all of the butt covering filters of course. If you don’t want to pay it then maybe you get reduced service where your email is very unlikely to get through, or just turned off altogether. You’ll be forced to use their mail servers. An ISP will no longer be willing to host (or have a customer who hosts) any sort of anynymous remailer (and likely other annoying privacy technologies like Tor and Freenet) for example. It might even go so far as to stop sites from having email notifications of comments, or hosting mailing lists for example. The Australian rules apply if you get SPAM in your inbox. Whoever transported that is liable. And in fact, they require that email only originate from registered persons. The ISP and all their customers must ensure that only authorized people have access to any technology that could cause an email to be sent.

    The overall implication is that ISPs should be held liable for their customers. This is a dangerous path (and one that Michael argues the other side on when its music downloads rather than SPAM). I’m merely pointing out that the slipery slope is there, and that established big ISPs may surprise everyone by leaping onto the slippy-slide of liability when they see that it plays into their desire to begin dabbling (and charging) for the content travelling over their networks. It is also an extremely effective way of keeping all these little community non-profit or co-op efforts from getting off the ground. How many of them will be able to afford to police their customers. How many of them will have someone available 24/7 to respond to SPAM complaints and shutdown customers as the Australian code requires. How many ISPs will have the gall to permit you to provide services to anoymous people or run software like Tor when they could be liable for SPAM that might slip past them?

    Government should be removing liabilities, not creating them. It’s hard to build the future open information society when people are afraid to talk or take initiative because they might get sued. I’d much rather hit delete in my inbox 50 times a day and have a law that simply requires the ISP to provide their customer’s contact details with a court order and another that says it’s illegal to knowingly originate unsolicited bulk junk mail.