Published Saturday June 28 2014
On July 1st, new anti-spam legislation is set to become law in Canada, a law that aims to eliminate unwanted electronic messages (emails, text messages, instant messages) and severely penalize individuals and companies that send them.
In principle, I applaud the government's attempt to eliminate unwanted electronic messages. Consumers shouldn't be burdened with unwanted messages, which can also be a potential source of identity theft and online fraud.
But spam originating from Canada represents one per cent of spam sent worldwide (Kaspersky Labs). And although between 65 and 80 per cent of all emails are spam, only a tiny fraction reach our inboxes thanks to spam filtering technology. The big telcos (and services like Gmail) do an exceptional job keeping our inboxes relatively clean.
In its present form, the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) is a draconian law that is far too broad in its efforts to clamp down on unwanted electronic messages. The penalties for conviction range from up to a maximum $1 million for individuals and to up to a maximum $10 million for businesses.
For the roughly 1.1 million businesses in Canada - from sole proprietorships to multi-national corporations - CASL represents a logistical quagmire that will severely restrict their ability to conduct business as usual.
The problem with CASL is whether you have consent or not, and who can receive what electronic messages going forward.
Let's say you're a small business that has signed up several thousand email subscribers over the past few years. A large percentage of those subscribers could now be deemed invalid under CASL's new rules requiring express consent. Bizarrely, CASL doesn't recognize implied consents previously obtained under Canada’s privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Some lawyers have already admitted that the law is too sweeping and convoluted in its present form and are unsure how it will be administered.
CASL will not deter offenders from sending spam or committing fraudulent acts online. It will only burden businesses with unnecessary internal processes and send a chill throughout the entire business community over a problem that practically doesn't exist.
It should be noted that car dealers are not in the business of sending unwanted electronic messages. They send customers emails and text messages with information about the care, maintenance and safety of their vehicles, and discounts on scheduled maintenance and repairs.
If you receive an unwanted message from a dealer (or any other business in Canada), there should be an "opt out" option within the body of the email. It's a consumer's right to opt out at any time. It's as simple as that.
Who stands to lose the most without CASL? Canada Post. As more consumers and businesses abandon Canada Post in favour of digital communications, the Crown Corporation is losing hundreds of millions per year. According to the Conference Board of Canada, if present trends continue, Canada Post could lose $1 billion a year by 2020.
What better way to regain some of that lost revenue than by invoking the threat of huge financial penalties against individuals and businesses that don't want to risk sending errant emails? The way I see it, the federal government has created a phony war on spam as a means of scaring businesses into using direct-mail and other traditional postal services again.
Perhaps someone will initiate the process to have the current version of CASL repealed, or at least amended. If you feel as strongly as I do about the unfairness and impracticality of CASL, please contact your local MP.