Madam Speaker, when I first introduced legislation back in 2003, I was the first member of Parliament to do so and the first member of Parliament from a Liberal party that took this issue very seriously.
I am glad to see my hon. colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, has joined with us after many years of effort. It was a very tough thing over the years to try and manage 15 or 16 different files. I am very pleased to say that I know the parliamentary secretary is doing due diligence on that committee, a committee on which I am very proud of having worked over the years. Many of the issues that we raised many years ago are now starting to bear fruit.
I am happy to see the government is finally taking action on spam, what all of us will know is unsolicited electronic mail. Many of us who have computers, all know how dangerous and how much of a problem this is for both Canadian consumers and businesses.
In 2003 it was estimated that spam cost the economy over $27 billion worldwide. Since then, the problem has only grown worse. I am sure there is more updated information which the parliamentary secretary and others may be able to illustrate. However, to say the least, we are now looking at a far more serious problem, which hopefully will be corrected by the bill, as it relates to issues such as identity theft, phishing and spyware, all of which give concern to Canadians and to the world. We have to deal with this in legislation both locally and internationally.
In the early 2000s, the Liberal Party recognized the problem that spam created. In 2003 I tabled a private member's bill to make spam illegal. Unfortunately, the bill never made it to second reading. However, on the strength of Bill C-460, introduced in mid-2003 in the 37th Parliament, the minister of industry struck a committee to examine the issue of spam and to report to the minister about how the government could most effectively stop this obvious and serious, growing problem.
That report entitled “Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger, Safer Internet” was released in May of 2005. The report was created by a committee of 10 experts on information technology and Internet law. The task force also worked with dozens of stakeholders in the technology industry to develop sound proposals and to look at and observe best practices at the time.
The primary recommendations of the task force were that the government legislate prohibitions on the following: the sending of unsolicited email; the use of false or misleading statements that disguise the origin and the true intent of the email; the installing of unauthorized programs such as spyware; and the unauthorized collection of personal information and email addresses, particularly by using fake websites, through the selling of lists where those on the list were not told the list would be sold to another third, unknown party.
The official opposition supports the bill as it follows through on the recommendations of the committee, which was created by the Liberal government. However, much more remains ahead of us and much more needs to be done.
The committee highlighted the need for the government to play a central role in coordinating the actions of both government and the private sector. All actors agree that spam needs to be stopped. Internet service providers, web hosts and online marketing agencies need a set of best practices for email solicitation. The government must work, in coordination with industry partners, to establish a strong code of practice that prevents the proliferation of electronic emails that are unsolicited, unwanted and constitute spam.
These days spam is no longer a problem exclusive to email. In 2004 and 2005, when the committee was writing the report, spam was starting to move to other electronic platforms. Today Canadians must contend with cellphone spam, either by means of text message or by something we may not all be familiar with, robo calling.
It is important that the act recognize the facts and is technologically neutral, encompassing all forms of commercial electronic communication. I believe the legislation must meet that test to ensure there is proper, effective and adaptable application to current, existing and future modalities that may be able to circumvent not only technologies to prevent and to protect consumers in business, but also to remain faithful to the act.
This is why I hope the act can be revisited on a yearly basis as technology evolves. It is something the Liberal Party will look to see the government amend or to look at in committee.
Moreover, the issue of text message spam is being aggravated obviously by yet another announcement of a major cellular service provider over the last year to start charging for received text messages.
There has been plenty of discussion among members of Parliament. It is obvious to everyone that it is unfair, to say the least, that consumers are charged for something they had no choice whatsoever in receiving. Spam is not just a Canadian problem, as I indicated earlier. Given the borderless nature of the Internet, it means that spam can originate from anywhere and be delivered to anywhere.
I strongly point out that the legislation takes measures within Canada. There has to be, obviously, an attempt to work internationally with our other partners so that we can also go after those companies and those organizations that are doing this remotely from other countries that do not have the same level of proposed enforcement or legislation. As a result, because of the international nature of this problem, any government that is serious about combatting spam must be willing to engage other governments around the world in an international strategy to reduce this ongoing problem.
The government's ability to combat spam is not simply about legislation. I am asking, and I am hoping, and my party calls on the government to show its concern by raising this internationally at all international fora and working with other governments to produce a coordinated international anti-spam and anti-counterfeit strategy. The effectiveness of this law will be measured by the government's commitment to enforcement.
I take the comments that have already been raised in the parliamentary secretary's presentation of Bill C-27, that we have to ensure there is adequate support for enforcement of the legislation, which is being complimented and certainly being recommended here.
That is tall order. There is no point in putting forth legislation if there is a reasonable chance that the legislation will not have the intended impact of deterring, stopping, correcting and preventing what is continuously more than just a nuisance, but a very costly one at that.
Of course, policing Internet traffic is incredibly difficult because any Internet crime crosses jurisdictions and borders, both provincial and federal. This is why the attempt to control or to stop spam in the report called on the government to create a central office that would coordinate anti-spam activities. I am looking at the parliamentary secretary, hoping that in fact he will move diligently on that if speedy passage is indeed given to this piece of legislation.
According to the minister, Industry Canada is being designated the official coordinating body. I would like to ask the government what kind of resources Industry Canada is being given to coordinate the three other agencies that the parliamentary secretary has referred to that have responsibilities under this act, those being the Privacy Commissioner, the CRTC and the Competition Bureau, as well as, of course, the RCMP.
What resources can we see coming from the government with respect to these offices so that we can in fact see spam corrected in this country?
I realize that question may come back to me, but it is certainly a question that I would think the government will have to answer time and again here to ensure that we have a correct and appropriate measure.
It is extremely important that, everywhere in Canada, we can have confidence in the legislation proposed by the government. I expect that the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology will deal quickly with the issue before us. We have been waiting for a bill for six years. I had hoped that my bill in 2003 would be adopted. It was deserving; but that was not the case.
Central to this issue, if the government passes legislation and walks away from the issue, all these initiatives that are proposed, well-intended, well-researched and up-to-date, will indeed fall. I believe that legislation, to be correctly brought forward, must also ensure that we have proper resources and effective coordination so that it is understood how this is going to take place. The more rapid response we can have to correct this problem, I think, will ensure that those who see Canada as an opportunity, as a target, will find another place. But we also want to make sure that other place is blocked. We simply want to put an end, where possible, to these practices, which have as their origins and as their sense the undermining of the credibility and integrity of communicating and the effectiveness of legitimate use of the Internet, which belongs to us all.
I was here in 1993 and 1994 when the industry minister at the time, Mr. John Manley, talked about the great opportunities of the Internet as the superhighway, as we used to call it at the time, because it was the wonderful dawning of new age.
Unfortunately, that superhighway has become badly clogged, to the point where I think it is fair to say that there have been serious traffic jams, if not serious accidents, along the way. Therefore, this legislation is timely, it is necessary, and I hope it has a reasonable opportunity to in fact pass.
The government must follow up on the legislation with real action and real enforcement resources. It must actively engage all partners everywhere and industry internationally. It must continue the consultation process and develop longer term opportunities to combat spam. So I ask the government what plans it has, moving forward, to engage industry partners in building strong codes of this practice.
We will have to ensure that it is not just based on a blue-ribbon panel that was struck some years ago but that in fact we have an ongoing ability to ensure that partners, stakeholders and consumers, those who have been tremendously affected by this, will be able to benchmark and give us feedback as to how effective this legislation will be, particularly from the point of enforcement.
What plan does the government have to work with our international partners in building a strong international effort to combat spam? Spam can be incredibly destructive. Besides consuming time and bandwidth, spam is a delivery vehicle for malware, programs that access one's computer without authorization and can do a number of nasty things. Malware includes viruses and spyware, which attack the individual user. However, some of these programs turn the user's computer into a zombie on a botnet, which then can be used to attack major websites on the Internet.
This is something that we could not have contemplated three, four or five years ago, but it is currently taking place. Many consumers and many constituents have talked to me about this and have talked to other members of the House. We need to ensure that we have a pragmatic policy, a pragmatic document that is capable of changing with changing times as Internet and electronic information becomes more sophisticated.
All these attacks have serious economic impacts when websites like eBay or Google are brought down. Even for a few hours, billions of dollars are lost. Spyware can be used for identity theft, which is a constantly growing threat in the Internet age.
I do not need to say that even our own electronic system here in the House of Commons has been subjected to several attacks over the past several months. These have caused enormous difficulty for many of us as we communicate. I notice some members of Parliament sporting a BlackBerry, and others, a computer. It is important that we get the platform, or the framework, of this legislation correct.
I call upon all members to support the bill at second reading so it can go to committee. However, I have serious concerns about the will or the interest of the government in enforcing these rules and to work co-operatively with other stakeholders and with other governments.
Madam Speaker, I will end there but I am eager to hear the comments and questions of my colleagues.