My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) highlights the failure of the Canadian government to follow through on a task force report that recommended new anti-spam legislation. Industry Minister Bernier was recently asked about his efforts in combating spam, an ongoing nuisance that costs Canadian business millions of dollars while harming the consumer confidence needed to support emerging businesses. Bernier indicated that he had just received the 2005 National Task Force on Spam report (I was a member of the task force) and would respond to its recommendations in the coming weeks.
While he acknowledged that a "big group of experts" had called on the government to do something, he seemed to foreshadow a rejection of the Task Force's legislative recommendations, commenting that "the question is, what can we do? And I'm not sure right now. Maybe the market will decide in the end." I argue that should the Minister take the time to carefully read the report, he will find that a broad cross-section of Canadians representing Internet service providers, marketers, and the public, do not share his doubts about the role of government.
Moreover, the Minister's claim that he only recently received the Task Force report is contradicted by documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act. They reveal that just days after Bernier was sworn in as Canada’s Industry Minister, department officials delivered a briefing titled "Building Business Confidence and Consumer Trust Online."
The briefing warned that spam now dominates email, with some reports suggesting that up to 80 percent of all email entering businesses is spam. Moreover, it noted that the increase in spam "causes e-mail systems to experience unexpected overloads in bandwidth, server storage capacity and loss of end-user productivity" and that "spam has become more dangerous, and a primary vehicle for network threats such as viruses, spyware, and phishing."
The briefing concluded that these threats were leading to an erosion of trust and confidence, discouraging consumer e-commerce, changing online behaviour, and resulting in diminishing faith in online banking. To address the concerns, department officials pointed to the Task Force's recommendation of anti-spam legislation that would cover unsolicited commercial email, false and misleading email header data, counterfeit addressing, and the unauthorized collection of email addresses.
Months after this briefing and nearly a year and a half after the Task Force submitted its report, the government has done little to address the issue. The privacy sector and the public have done their part. The question now must be why, after being advised months ago by his own officials that the government needed to take action, the Industry Minister has left Canadian business and consumers without the protection that seemingly everyone else agrees they need.