Mr. Speaker, if I am not mistaken, I have about 15 minutes left because on September 27, I had already started my speech on Bill C-28, Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act.
At the time, I spoke to the House about how difficult it is to eliminate spam. It is time for Canada to bring in legislation to prevent fraudsters and all kinds of people from taking over emails and text messages, among other things. Almost everyone who is online, or who can be online, and who uses new technologies, which are increasingly prevalent now, is subject to spam attacks. That is why it is important for us to pass legislation.
When I started my speech, I said that the scourge of spam attacks businesses, offices, service providers and everyone doing business. Bill C-28 creates the new Electronic Commerce Protection Act to limit spam. As I said, spam is a commercial electronic message sent without the express consent of the recipient. It can be any commercial electronic message, any text, audio, voice or visual message sent by any means of telecommunication. This includes text messages and instant messages, in addition to email.
When I was interrupted because of the time, I was talking about the background to Bill C-28. First of all, a task force on spam was created in 2004. The group brought together Internet service providers as well as electronic marketing experts and government and consumer representatives. I said that consumers are often the main victims of spam.
For example, I am sure that everyone has received an email, supposedly from their credit union or bank, saying that there were problems with their account but that the institution was working on it and the client's banking and contact information was needed in order to fix it. Chances are that anyone who takes the bait and is foolish enough to reply with personal details and their personal identification numbers will have their bank account emptied in no time. Very few people fall for it, but there are still some who do, unfortunately.
The task force, which was set up six years ago, gave more than 60 groups from the sectors concerned an opportunity to take part in the discussions and contribute their views on topics such as legislation and enforcement, international co-operation and raising public awareness.
The task force launched “Stop Spam Here”, an online awareness campaign to provide users with tips on how to limit the amount of spam they receive, and it presented its final report to the industry minister on May 17, 2005. A bill was introduced as a result. We are now studying Bill C-28. I would like to remind members that the Bloc Québécois agrees with this bill. It will undoubtedly go to committee, and we will have more opportunities to hear a number of witnesses talk about the importance of legislation in this area.
The task force's report, entitled “Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger, Safer Internet”, recommended new, targeted legislation and more vigorous enforcement of current laws to reinforce the legal and regulatory arsenal available to Canada in the global fight against spam. The report also supported the creation of a focal point within government for coordinating the actions taken to address the spam issue and other related problems, such as spyware.
The task force proposed a number of interesting recommendations—this is where I left off last time when I was talking about background.
It recommended more vigorous legislation and enforcement and called for legislation to prohibit spam and protect personal information and privacy, as well as computers, emails and networks. The proposed legislation would allow individuals and companies to sue spammers—in other words, people who send spam—and hold businesses whose products and services are promoted using these means partially responsible for spamming activity. The report also recommended providing more resources to the organizations responsible for administering and enforcing anti-spam laws.
Another recommendation concerned a centre of expertise on spam. The task force recommended creating a centre to coordinate the government's anti-spam initiatives.
The third recommendation was for strong industry best practices. Email marketers would have to obtain informed consent from the email recipients, provide an opting-out mechanism for all further emails and create a complaints system.When it comes to new technology, it is somewhat natural to experiment with a free-for-all approach. When something first comes along, it is new and wonderful. Everything is on the table and anything goes. We want more and more of it. But sooner or later, we begin receiving emails that are not really just for us and when we no longer want to receive them, we realize that there is no way to stop receiving emails automatically sent by companies. Whether fraudulent or not, they can be annoying. The products they are selling are not always fraudulent. The intention of these emails, which become spam under the circumstances since we receive them so often, is not always to defraud the recipient. While email is a useful tool in the work place, spam can spoil a work day. We spend just as much time, if not more, trying to rid ourselves of spam as we do really working with the emails we need to send at work.
The task force also recommended launching a public education campaign. As I said earlier, a website has been set up for the public. The website, “Stop Spam Here”, was launched in December 2004 and offers practical tips for protecting personal information, computers and email addresses. It is important that people know how to get more information about this.
The task force also suggested, or rather, recommended, improved international co-operation and enforcement measures. International measures to stem spam are vital. We must harmonize anti-spam policies and improve co-operation in enforcing anti-spam laws among different countries. In preparing for my speech today, I learned that most of the spam reaching Canadians comes from outside the country. Huge amounts of spam are quite often sent from sites and locations all around the globe. We are the victims of these floods of spam. Of course it is difficult to identify the source of these emails. I am not a specialist in electronic communication, but I know that even though we can find the addresses that send the spam, people are clever enough to make it very hard to do so.
Both the Bloc Québécois industry, small business and tourism critic and member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord and I have criticized the fact that it took four or five years for legislation to be introduced. Private businesses especially are losing billions of dollars a year. Individuals are also wasting time.
Time is money. All this spam causes everyone to lose a lot of money. The government took a long time to act, but it is better late than never. The committee will see what it can do with this bill. At least there is something to start from. Industry Canada—particularly the minister and his predecessors—must be wondering why this bill took so long to be introduced, especially since elsewhere in the world, action was taken much more quickly.
We are now examining the Electronic Commerce Protect Act, which sets limits on the sending of spam. The only time spam may be sent is when the person to whom the message is sent has consented to receiving it, whether the consent is express or implied. In addition to being in a form that conforms to the prescribed requirements, the message will have to make it possible to identify and contact the sender. As I said earlier, it is not always easy to see where this type of message originated. With this legislation, it will be very clear. At least we hope it will. We must be able to identify and contact the person who sent us the message.
Lastly, the message must include an unsubscribe mechanism. This means that if someone receives an email, or spam in this case, and they no longer want to receive messages from that company, they will be able to click on a button to unsubscribe. The email address or hyperlink would allow us to no longer receive commercial electronic messages from the sender. That is mentioned in clauses 6 and 11 of Bill C-28.
The bill would also prohibit altering the transmission data in an electronic message so that it is delivered to destinations other than that specified by the initial sender. In addition, the bill would prohibit installing a computer program on another person's computer and sending an electronic message from that computer without the owner's consent. These are important measures if we want to limit fraud as much as possible.
Any violation, even indirect, of any of these provisions, would result in an administrative monetary penalty—a fine—if the computer being used is located in Canada. These fines could be as high as $1 million for individuals and $10 million in other cases.
This may seem high, but I would like to turn the House's attention to a recent article by Yves Boisvert, published in La Presse. The article was about a man from Montreal who was found guilty of spamming Facebook and was fined more than $1 billion. You heard correctly: I did not say $1 million, I said $1 billion. That sentence was handed down in California against a Montrealer whose name I will not mention because I do not want to encourage him. Apparently he is pleased and proud to have spammed Facebook. I will not indulge him by saying his name.
According to the article by Mr. Boisvert, the Montrealer was found guilty in 2008 in California. Why California? Because that is where Facebook has its head offices. The ruling was recently made binding by Quebec Superior Court in Montreal. This man managed to penetrate Facebook and send spam to millions with the goal of selling all sorts of things. To quote Mr. Boisvert, “You know, spam signed by someone you know, maybe even a friend, but really they are ads for Viagra?”
The guy in question had to face California law, which is very, very strict. We all know that he will not be able to pay the fine of over $1 billion, but it certainly sends a very clear message.
If Bill C-28 manages to be a deterrent and to impose fines of $10 million, especially with regard to companies, then that is progress.