My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) takes stock of the battle against spam one year after Canada’s National Task Force on Spam submitted its report. The column notes that while filtering has become more effective, first impressions can be deceiving. Global spam volume continues to increase, with recent surveys indicating that 80 percent of all e-mail is now spam. Spam has also become far more dangerous as many messages secretly contain viruses or other hidden programs that can unwittingly turn ordinary Internet users with broadband connections into large-scale spammers.
Unfortunately the Canadian legal framework has failed to keep pace with the new spam-related concerns. While Canada stands pat, many countries, including New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan have introduced new anti-spam laws over the past year. In addition, Australia is currently reviewing the effectiveness of its well-regarded anti-spam law and many U.S. states have enacted anti-spam statutes designed to supplement the federal Can-Spam Act.
The long-term elimination of spam requires action against the spammers themselves. The Task Force identified several areas where Canadian law falls short, including privacy legislation, which is ill-suited to deal with spam since it does not include tough penalties that would serve as an effective deterrent; the Criminal Code, which applies to clearly fraudulent or criminal spam, yet limited resources has kept spam off law enforcement’s radar screen; and the Competition Bureau, which has launched several anti-spam actions, but only against the most obvious cases of fraud or misleading conduct.
With many other countries continuing to aggressively target spammers, Canada would do well to act on both the domestic and international levels. Domestically, it should remove the uncertainty associated with the current anti-spam legal techniques by upgrading domestic legislation with tough penalties against spam.
On the international front, Canada should increase its presence by working on cross-border enforcement initiatives. Moreover, it should consider providing anti-spam assistance to developing countries, who are frequently unable to deal effectively with the spam overload.
The recent improvement in spam filtering may have the unintended consequence of decreasing public pressure for anti-spam action since the full impact of spam may be hidden from Internet users. However, with spammers branching out to computer viruses and identity theft, and ISPs reporting that four out of every five email messages are now spam, the risks associated with problem continues to increase.