Feds launch antispam task force

Industry Canada is joining forces with various consumer, marketing and industry groups to try to put an end to unsolicited e-mail.

The antispam task force is being given a year to look at ways to improve and enforce existing Canadian laws that could have an impact on reducing the flow of spam. As it stands today, the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Documents Act (PIPEDA), the Criminal Code of Canada and the Competition Act are the tools currently used to address spam. Though there are no specific antispam laws in Canada, there are two bills before Parliament (Bill S-2 and C-460).

The task force is being chaired by Michael Binder, assistant deputy minister for Spectrum, information technologies and telecommunications at Industry Canada, and involves groups including the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail Canada (CAUCE), the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) and the Information Association of Canada (ITAC). “There is broad agreement that something needs to be done,” said Lucienne Robillard, minister of Industry, in a statement.

“We cannot allow spam to continue to threaten the reliability of e-mail communications and erode confidence in the Internet.”

In order to win the fight against unwanted bulk e-mail, it’s essential that the task force focus on an international commitment, Robillard said, noting that 19 of every 20 spam messages received by Canadians comes from outside Canada.

Marketing and consumer groups are planning to play a bigger role when it comes to informing Internet users how to avoid spam, according to the task force agenda. Seemingly simple messages, such as not buying products from spammers, don’t seem to be getting through to the very people who complain about receiving the unsolicited e-mail.

In order to fight spam from all angles, Canada also plans to extend its existing relationships with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — which is also currently developing a plan to fight spam — and with the Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce (GBDe).

Neil Schwartzman, chairperson of the board of directors for CAUCE Canada, said he isn’t sure if the task force is simply “window dressing” to an election or if it is the real thing. But he said he is convinced that he is not the only person on the committee who is very serious about finding solutions to fight unsolicited e-mail.

Although the task force has been given a year to see what changes it can make, Schwartzman said e-mail itself may not have that much time left.

“A year from now if nothing is done in this country and if nothing is done with the e-mail infrastructure, there won’t be any e-mail,” he noted. “At what point do we pull the plug and say, ‘okay, we are going to be using fax and telephone again, thanks?’ And certainly there are businesses that have come to that conclusion.”

It is encouraging that the task force is keeping a stream open for end-user communication, Schwartzman said, adding that this is an area where a significant change can be made.

“As much as laws are great, anybody in the antivirus community will tell you that none of the viruses would have had even a tiny bit of success if people had updated their [antivirus] software,” he noted.

Although assembling this task force is a step in the right direction, Amanda Maltby, senior vice-president for the CMA, said that it’s natural for a “wait and see” attitude to exist in the community right now.

“I think if you look at some of the legislative efforts that have taken place…there has generally [been] skepticism about the effectiveness of that type of legislation,” she said.

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