Canadian Feds Ponder Spam Options

A Canadian task force enlisted to draft recommendations to combat spam has submitted its report to the country’s Minister of Industry. The group was assembled by the Canadian government, which set up the May 2004 Anti-Spam Action Plan for Canada to evaluate existing legislation and make recommendations for revisions and new laws to reduce spam.

The report calls for additional government legislation to advance prohibition of spamming activities and establish appropriate penalties, enforcement mechanisms, and industry standards to fight spam. It also recommends practices on business conduct, public education and awareness, and international cooperation with regard to spam.

Canada’s existing laws include the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). Task force member and chair of the board of directors for the Canadian Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) Neil Schwartzman feels the laws are only peripherally applicable to the spam problem.

The 10-member task force comprises government and private sector members, including representatives from the Canadian Marketing Association.

“Basically we have seen, with a few exceptions, a handful of rulings about spam in this country and it is not yet dissuading spammers to shut down,” said Schwartzman.

The report’s recommendations are the result of consideration and observation of Canada’s experience, as well as legislative practices in the U.S., Australia, and other countries. The proposed actions, now in a drafting process within the Canadian government, seek to differentiate legitimate businesses stepping over the spam line from career spammers. In that regard, Schwartzman cited the short-lived California Spam Bill, which potentially would have equally punished spammers and senders of legitimate email newsletters.

“I would hate to see having to take a sledgehammer to a mosquito for someone who has made a small mistake,” said Schwartzman.

The task force advises the government to continue to pursue bilateral agreements on anti-spam policies and strategies with foreign governments. In addition, it calls for seamless international cooperative investigation and investigative action.

The group looked to legislation from other countries, including the U.S. and Australia, to formulate the findings in its proposal. The successes and pitfalls of American legislation regarding spam provided a basis for the recommendations for future Canadian legislation. Though observation of U.S. policy required minimum involvement from the U.S., the country should expect to play a more active role with its northern neighbor. The proposal discusses bilateral initiatives to reach out to key partners, including the U.S. The task force anticipates an agreement to be signed with the U.S. government in late 2005.

“Like any investigation that is going on, there has to be peer-to-peer cooperation,” said Schwartzman. “We are talking about organized criminals operating on an international plain.”

He considers common sense the main directive. “Treat your customers with respect, and they are going to buy more.”

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