A few years ago spam was a mild irritant. Today it’s become the cancer of the e-economy, according to Federal Industry Minister David Emerson.

“(Spam) is a public nuisance, an impediment to business, an invasion of privacy and a threat to our networked infrastructure,” Emerson said Monday. He was a delivering the keynote at the ‘e-Commerce to e-Economy’ national conference in Ottawa.

Thought leaders from the country’s private and public sector have converged in the capital for the two-day conference. Their goal: to discuss and develop a shared vision for Canada’s future in the new world of information and communication technologies (ICT).

Emerson said – despite the significant threat posed by spam – a decisive solution had not been identified. “So far, we have not found a silver bullet.”

But he noted that the government is serious about licking the problem, and its specially constituted Spam Task Force is drawing on expertise from every sector. “If we combine right legislation, right enforcement, right technology and the right education programs, we may get spam under control.”

The minister warned that the battle against spam has to be won soon. “Frankly, we must succeed or risk a backlash against the very tools that will drive our competitive success.”

In his keynote Emerson also offered perspectives on several issues including corporate consolidation, private-public sector collaboration, commercializing science and technology, and the federal and provincial governments’ role in fostering technological transformation.

Government, he said, can play a key role as regulator. He cited the recently concluded CRTC hearings on voice-over-IP as an example of the power of regulation to significantly affect the future. Promoting “non-interventionary regulations” is a government priority, Emerson said.

In the area of privacy protection, he cited the example of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act that is based on a voluntary code worked out between government, consumers and industry.”

He said provincial and territorial governments across Canada had also endorsed the Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce. “Here again, the intent is to protect consumers, while facilitating the e-economy marketplace in a non-intrusive way.”

However, the minister noted that regulatory improvements would have to extend well beyond Canada, and would require cooperation and coordination with regulators in other countries. “In my scan,” he said, “I see Canada a relatively small, highly turbulent, trade-dependent economy, bobbling along in a turbulent sea of global change.”

Emerson emphasized the vital importance of what he called “partnerships for innovation” between the public and private sector. He said the innovative performance of Canada’s private sector has been weak compared to its international peers. “To some degree, we have made up for the deficiency with a major government-assisted research push in universities and research institutes.”

But he said it’s imperative that the scientific and technological advances made possible by this research find their way into the private sector. “Ideally, our universities would produce a Research In Motion-type success story every year for the next five years,” he said. “Realistically, the intersection of graduate research, capital financing and a willing market isn’t easy, and it’s clearly not automatic.”

Emerson also called for investments in networks and linkages, so teams of experts across Canada and internationally can efficiently exchange information. Great science and technology, he said, should infuse the economy and drive better living standards for all.

“There will be scientific dead ends,” the minister said. “But there will be the occasional home run. We must be ready to hit those home runs for Canada.”

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