Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise in this House. In politics, one has to adjust quickly at times. I may not necessarily have been ready, but I had made some preparations.
I am addressing today an issue which, as we all know, concerns a vast majority of the people we represent.
Nowadays, emailing is increasingly widespread in our societies, particularly among young people. Internet use is increasingly popular among youth and adults like us as well. I am myself an avid user of email.
Electronic mail is a relatively simple and inexpensive means of communication. It allows messages to be sent simultaneously to a large number of recipients at any time of day or night, basically anytime at all. It makes it easy to send messages to people anywhere in the world.
We can therefore communicate with family, friends or colleagues anytime, day or night, which increases communication between everyone on this planet. In addition, electronic mail allows us, as parliamentarians, to efficiently stay in touch with our fellow citizens. We now have several tools available to us. We have our electronic mail, our websites, Facebook and so on. These tools allow us to communicate with the various stakeholders in the community or our ridings, and with our office staff, whom I greet and whose excellent work I commend.
We used to work with letters written on paper and telephone calls, but emailing is widespread today, and electronic mail is very easy to access and use.
My remarks today concern Bill C-27, to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Quebec and Canadian economy by regulating certain fraudulent commercial activities using electronic mail, commonly known as spam. That is what it is called in everyday language nowadays.
Unfortunately, using the Internet is not always advantageous. We have seen on occasion that this mode of communication—we have all experienced this—can cause us some difficulties. Anyone who uses email regularly receives spam, in other words, unsolicited electronic commercial messages, the purpose of which is to encourage participation in a commercial activity, such as buying a product, or in a competition or game of chance.
Let us hope that this new legislative measure, Bill C-27, which we in the Bloc Québécois all support, will have the same effect as the legislative measure on the do not call list that regulated telephone solicitation.
It goes without saying that the vast majority of email users that I know would greatly appreciate such a measure.
Over the years, unsolicited commercial electronic messages have become a bigger and bigger problem and more widespread as a result, in large part because sending email is free.
Spam has become a real nuisance, damaging computers and networks and representing a significant economic cost. It contributes to fraudulent commercial practices—we are talking more and more about cybercrime—and it often invades people's privacy.
According to a recent Industry Canada study, 80% of email worldwide consists of spam.
That is a very high percentage. Here in the House of Commons, our staff spend quite a bit of time sorting through all these unwanted email messages. It is becoming increasingly important to take action on this, which is why Bill C-27 targets unwanted email.
Spam has huge financial consequences, including the labour costs associated with sorting through all these unwanted emails we receive. Of course, spam occupies a lot of Internet bandwidth, and service providers have to pay exorbitant amounts to filter spam messages. They then pass these costs on to their clients.
We have only to go to places that sell software such as Norton to see that new software is being created every day to deal with all these messages and the viruses that are passed on through spam. Spam is widespread because it is easy and cheap to create and it works. It is effective. According to some statistics, 80% of the email messages we receive are unwanted. And unwanted email is a growing problem on our networks.
With just one click, it is possible to send millions of messages at such a low cost that the operation remains profitable even with a low rate of return. Unfortunately, some people do respond to email solicitations, which leads to major problems with their computer system. Most spam is advertising. We see it when we surf the Internet. It appears as ads, as pornography, unfortunately, as scams and in all sorts of other forms. Pornographic spam, for example, accounts for much of the concern we have as parents about letting our children use email. Often, we see them surfing the Internet and receiving all sorts of solicitations. They see all sorts of pornographic images and receive all sorts of unwanted invitations. Sometimes, these messages are harassing and even criminal. Spam not only threatens the viability of the Internet as an effective means of communication, but undermines the confidence we as consumers have in legitimate electronic commerce.
In recent months, the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology has worked very hard to draft this bill and has heard from many witnesses. Everyone believes in the merits of this bill and I think the House is unanimous in that regard. Preserving the efficiency of legitimate electronic commerce is a vital and pressing issue and the Bloc has worked constructively to have this legislation implemented as quickly as possible.
Not only are legitimate commercial emails sent with the prior and ongoing consent of the recipient important to electronic commerce, but they are also essential to the development of a strong and productive online economy.
We must not forget that spam constitutes a considerable burden not just for consumers but also for our small, medium-sized and large businesses. As I said earlier, these companies spend considerable time managing these unwanted emails that can have disastrous consequences for the management of our Internet services.
Spam wastes time and reduces productivity at work. It obstructs networks and affects the security of computers by forwarding viruses and phishing emails that result in significant losses for businesses.
For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois and a number of socio-economic players have for years been asking the federal government for legislation to regulate unsolicited commercial email.
We must not forget that service providers, network operators and consumers are all adversely affected by this problem, which is growing rather than diminishing in spite of all the antivirus software and the fact that computer technology is getting better and better. Nevertheless, our networks are facing increasing problems and experiencing more and more situations where they become inefficient. In addition, there are many viruses in our computer systems.
The task force on spam, which was created in 2004, has been calling for such a measure for over five years now. So, taking its inspiration primarily from the final report of the task force on spam released in May 2005, the purpose of Bill C-27 is to establish a framework to protect electronic commerce. As we know, it is a growing business. Internet-based trade and financial transactions are becoming more and more important and increasingly common. We must protect this network. The purpose of this bill is to protect and promote efficient electronic commerce.
To do this, the bill would amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act and the Personal Information Protection Act. Furthermore, Bill C-27 would enact the new electronic commerce protection act, which would make it illegal to send spam to any electronic address. The only circumstances under which it would be allowed is when the person to whom the message is sent has explicitly consented to receiving it. In addition, the message must be in a form that conforms to the prescribed requirements and must include an unsubscribe mechanism.
The bill would allow the recipient to indicate, through an email address or hyperlink, that he or she does not want to receive any further commercial electronic messages from the sender. Finally, the proposed legislation makes those may who send spam subject to hefty financial penalties. There must be consequences for this kind of behaviour on the Internet. The bill would allow individuals and companies to sue spammers and hold any businesses whose products and services are promoted using these means partially responsible for spamming activity. That is crucial, of course.
It is important to note that the bill stipulates that certain commercial messages would not be considered spam.
These commercial messages include: messages sent by an individual to another individual with whom they have a personal or family relationship; messages sent to a person who is engaged in a commercial activity and consist solely of an inquiry or application related to that activity; messages that are, in whole or in part, an interactive two-way voice communication between individuals; or messages sent by means of a facsimile to a telephone account. In all of these cases, the bill would not prohibit the sending of these messages.
As a number of my colleagues have already said, this is an important bill, but it will be quite complex to enforce. That is why the Bloc Québécois supported the bill in principle. But the Bloc thinks it is unbelievable that the legislative process took four years. Four years is a long time. Four years after the report was presented by the task force on spam, the federal government finally introduced a new bill, here in the House, on electronic commerce protection, which was becoming more and more necessary. Bill C-27 imposes even more controls on spam networks, and this problem will only get worse in the coming years. Four years was much too long.
Computer technology is changing rapidly, and people who want to send spam are unfortunately always finding new ways of doing so. We have to be able to protect ourselves better. Obviously, we want to hear and consult witnesses to ensure that this bill really meets needs and can really help consumers, businesses and companies do business on the web.
We also wanted to know whether the bill will make effective changes to combat the spam consumers receive. Introducing a bill is not enough; we have to be able to meet with witnesses and gauge the effectiveness of the measures contained in this bill.
After a serious study in committee, we still believe that this proposed new legislation will be effective in combatting spam.
In addition to the legislative and legal framework, which is necessary and essential, an education campaign will be needed. It is important to introduce legislation and try to find technical ways to prevent spam, but it is also important to raise public awareness and warn people, especially our youth, about spam, which is often fraudulent and sometimes dangerous.
Consumers know that users have a certain responsibility for controlling spam. We need to start with a public education campaign. We know that our young people are particularly vulnerable to scams and questionable messages they receive by email. International cooperation will also be needed if spam is to be eliminated.
Spam is not just a problem in Quebec and Canada. It is a global problem. Consequently, we need to keep working to harmonize anti-spam policies and to encourage countries to develop and enforce anti-spam legislation.