Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House today and speak to Bill C-27, a bill that looks at providing new prohibitions and enforcement measures as well as changes to existing laws regarding spam.
As one of the youngest members in the House, this is a bill that I feel very strongly about. That is why I stand here very proudly and state our position as the New Democratic Party, asking for the support of the House to make sure that this bill goes to committee in order to be discussed, in order to have the proper consultation it deserves, and in order for there to be time to look at such complex legislation.
The reason why I connect it with my generation is because I am part of a generation that has truly grown up dependent on technology. Not only are we dependent on it for our professional lives, but also our personal lives. It is the tool that brings our generation together.
As we sit and spend an inordinate amount of hours on the Internet, we are frequently faced by the nuisance that is spam, phishing, Trojan horses, and whatever other forms of Internet nuisance there might be. I would also like to point out how problematic it is.
On a more humourous note, I know my colleague yesterday recited some examples of spamware and how ridiculous they are. Whether it is the solicitation of funds from another part of the world, usually unfortunately taking advantage of people's sympathies and empathies toward areas of the world that have undergone crises, or it is ridiculous notes pertaining to people's personal lives and the assumption that we know who is talking to us and who wants to meet us, and all of these kinds of things. But, in fact, once again it is taking advantage of people's dependence on the Internet to connect in terms of their personal life as opposed to getting out and actually meeting people in the real world.
Beyond the humourous, however, we get to some of the really serious problems that emerge from spam and the kind of pollution that enters our in-boxes, our Facebook sites or our BlackBerries on a daily basis. There is the nuisance in terms of time and efficiency that it takes away from us as we go through our emails and spend valuable time erasing ridiculous messages that we receive.
There are the nuisances that businesses go through in terms of erasing spam emails that they receive or else defending perhaps themselves. This is also pertinent to individuals when it is believed they are the ones who have sent the spam messages when in fact it is someone else causing havoc.
Then there is the even more serious element which is the criminal element and the theft that occurs as a result of spam messages. Identity theft is something that we in Canada are very concerned about. I recall quite a bit of media attention when there was what seemed to be a surge in identity theft.
Also, the theft of financial information is connected to identity theft. It is found that many times such spammers, as they are called, or people who take advantage of others on the Internet, usually take advantage of people who are not familiar with technology, whether it is the elderly or people who are less savvy when it comes to Internet technology. That is highly problematic for so many reasons.
What makes it even more disconcerting for members in the House is Canada's inaction when it comes to spam, when it comes to Internet pollution, and when we see so many people being taken advantage of. I particularly want to bring out the extent to which not only Canadians are being taken advantage of but also people all around the world as a result of spam activity that originates here in Canada. I found out that Canada ranked fifth worldwide as the source of web-based email spam, trailing only Iran, Nigeria, Kenya and Israel.
A research study from Cloudmark, a leading provider of anti-spam software, recently presented data on the origins of spam emanating from web-based email providers, such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo, at an international anti-spam conference in Germany. It found out that we are fifth in terms of truly polluting the web world and taking advantage of people, not only in our own country but around the world. We need to be ashamed of that. We take pride in being advanced in the technological age and in our efficiencies with respect to our technology. There is a serious problem in that we have gone so far ahead in our technology that our legislation is lagging behind. We have a lot of people who are taking advantage of that gap and who are acting in very malicious ways and criminal ways as well.
There have been many examples of people who have taken advantage of Facebook sites. I know that is a site on which many politicians in the House spend a great deal of time, networking with their constituents. I am not sure if they have spent enough time to see some of the spam messages pasted on people's Facebook walls in a very public manner, with which I am sure none of us would want to be associated. However, we never know when spammers are going to take advantage of the work we do and our reputation and create havoc on our Facebook sites.
These are the kinds of things that could hit very close to home in the work that we do as political representatives.
I go back to the piece about Canada being negligent when it comes to being proactive in preventing such intense span activity originating from our country. I see the reference to Canada being a lawless spam haven. Two hundred billion spam messages come out of Canada every day. How could we fathom such extensive numbers, knowing very well that this has been an ongoing discussion in our House? I understand the Liberals brought up the first legislation regarding spam in 2003. We are now in 2009. That is six years.
We know there is far more use of the Internet, both in our country and around the world. Where has the federal government been in terms of implementing legislation that would both protect us and certainly clear our name as allowing this kind of activity to take place in our country while turning a blind eye?
I want to go back to talk a bit about some of the important prohibitions that Bill C-27 provides.
The primary prohibition, known as the basic anti-spam provision, notes:
No person shall send or cause or permit to be sent to an electronic address a commercial electronic message unless
(a) the person to whom the message is sent has consented to receiving it, whether the consent is express or implied; and
(b) the message complies with subsection (2).
There are number of provisions as part of subsection (2). It enforces, for example, the importance of three key requirements, form, consent and jurisdiction.
The law establishes form requirements for those who send commercial electronic messages, for example, and identifies the people sending the message. It provides contact information of the centre and also has an unsubscribe mechanism, which is so important as many of us receive numerous emails from the same source and find it difficult to know how to stop from receiving them any more.
The second prohibition that is part of Bill C-27 is referred to as the anti-phishing provision and involves the alteration of the transmission data on electronic messages. It is designed to deal with phishing, where the electronic message appears to go to one place but goes somewhere else. It states:
No person shall, in the course of a commercial activity, alter or cause to be altered the transmission data in an electronic message so that the message is delivered to a destination other than or in addition to that specified by the sender, unless the alteration is made with the express consent of the sender or in accordance with a court order.
The third prohibition is referred to as the anti-spyware and botnet provision. It is designed to deal with the increasingly common method of delivering spam that infects a user's computer and uses the Internet connection to send millions of spam messages.
The provision states:
No person shall, in the course of a commercial activity, install or cause to be installed a computer program on any other person’s computer system or, having so installed or caused to be installed a computer program, cause an electronic message to be sent from that computer system, unless the person has obtained the express consent of the owner or an authorized user of a computer system or is acting in accordance with a court order.
For this to apply, there must be a Canadian connection to the activity. As we have just heard, there is no shortage of Canadian connections to activity, given that we rank number five on the world charts when it comes to infecting other people's Internet connections with spam.
The intent of Bill C-27 is a very good one. For many years we have been talking about the importance of being proactive in this legislation to protect Canadian citizens, consumers and businesses and to prevent the rest of the world from having to deal with the garbage, in many ways, that emanates from our country.
I know my colleague, the member for Timmins—James Bay, an advocate for efficient and fair use of Internet technologies, has spoken many times on the importance of this issue. I would also like to recognize the work of my colleague from Windsor West, the critic on this file, who has worked very hard at committee to ensure that this is a constant priority.
In that sense, this has been an ongoing discussion. What is holding us up? Given that this is such complex legislation, we need to have a proper consultation with stakeholders. We recognize that in 2004 there was some consultation that took place under the Liberals. We also know what happened shortly after that. We have been in a series of minority governments, clearly unable to properly deal with such important legislation.
However, we believe there is enough good faith in the House to recognize that this is a priority and that we can no longer pay lip service to it or leave it on the shelf to be discussed at another time.
Going back to committee is the best way to go about this. For example, there was concern raised yesterday in the House about some provisions that were included in the bill, which came directly from the do-not-call list bill.
On the do-not-call list, many colleagues and Canadians throughout the country have pointed out how problematic it has been. People have, in good will and good faith, signed their names to a list, expecting that they will no longer be harassed by telemarketers and different companies. However, what we did not know was spammers and others on the net were purchasing these lists or finding them and doing quite the opposite, targeting people even more vehemently, the exact people who had specifically requested not to be called.
We see that some of the do-not-call list provisions are in this bill, which we would like to be part of a broader debate. There was some confusion yesterday from members across with respect to whether these kinds of provisions would be part of the final reading of Bill C-27. That immediately raises a red flag and indicates the importance of bringing this bill back to committee so we can ensure that each part of it is pertinent, that it reflects lessons we have learned from the past in terms of efficiency and fairness and that the final product will actually make a difference to Canadians.
We also like to point out the importance, as my fellow colleague from Elmwood—Transcona did, of consulting properly with small businesses. In many cases, small businesses depend a great deal on email communications through the work they do in advertising and contacts with their clients and consumers. We need to ensure that this bill does not penalize them in the kinds of emails they send out and that there are provisions to protect them. We need to understand the work they do.
If a small business does send out an email sometime after a purchase has been made or an agreement has been reached, will that be recognized as spam? Based on numerous emails consumers may receive from a business, will they view that as spam and file a complaint against that business, putting that business in a very difficult situation for actions that are quite legitimate?
We also like to point out that political parties send copious amounts of emails. We use Facebook. We use the tools available to us. Will we be on the short end of facing some difficult situations if people complain about the emails we send out? What kind of balance can we find in that area?
Canadians recognize that by no means are our parties immune to scandals. We see so many in the news and, even more recently, attached to numerous prior political incarnations in the House. We want to ensure that communications, which are so important for democracy, from our political parties are recognized as such. That is why it is so important to bring this bill back to committee so we can have these kinds of discussions.
The next point I would like to make is on enforcement. We find some of the measures around enforcement problematic. We all know it is fine and well to come up with a great bill that looks at punitive measures to render people accountable. However, if we do not have the proper enforcement, what are we doing here? The bill designates the CRTC to engage in such kinds of enforcement activities.
I think we all recognize that the CRTC does very hard work, but in many cases it is stretched thin in taking responsibility for the files and departments it already has under its administration, let alone bringing in such an important and extensive responsibility and adding it to its load. It is not that it would not be the best to deal with this. However, we need to look at proper provision of resources in finances, technology and human resources to ensure the CRTC can truly do the work it has been mandated to do.
I also recognize that the Privacy Commissioner is part of this. Does she have enough resources to undertake this kind of work?
When we talk about such important points as identity theft, the theft of financial information and ensuring that Canadian citizens and businesses can use the Internet safely, these are some pretty serious points. We need to ensure that the people who will be responsible for ensuring the rules and the legislation are followed have the abilities to do so. It is incumbent upon us and the government to ensure that this is the case.
Finally, I want to bring attention to the importance of protecting consumers. This bill is fundamentally about protecting Canadians and Canadian consumers. As New Democrats, we want to believe that. This is a very positive intent. This kind of legislation needs to take place, but we want to ensure that the consultation takes place as it should, that it is implemented properly and that it is enforced properly as well.
For that reason, we look with distress at the fact that our motion on credit cards and protecting consumers in that respect has not been heeded by the government. Numerous measures that we have proposed for employment insurance changes have not been heeded by the government.
Motions have been passed by all three opposition parties, might I add, that look out for the benefit of consumers.
I know that hon. members on the other side of the House represent many consumers, and I hope they will listen to us and bring this bill back to committee to ensure it makes a difference for us as Canadian consumers.