Madam Speaker, when I was first elected in the summer 2004, spam was a burgeoning issue, but it was something that was focused. Everyone's Internet account was getting inundated with spam and solicitations of a nefarious nature. In 2004 the activity was measured at $130 billion worldwide. One has to wonder exactly how it goes from zero to $130 billion in a very short period of time.
The situation has proliferated to the point where it has become oppressive to individuals who have email accounts and certainly for small businesses with accounts. In dealing with spam and unsolicited emails, we are at a point where the system has been clogged. Now 80% of the information traffic to our computers and PDAs constitutes what we know as spam.
That was then and this is now. Not only has the situation been exacerbated by the fact that so many people are trying to get involved in unsolicited emails and are becoming much better at, the system is allowing them to become much faster and in many cases more elusive. We have several platforms by which people can do this.
As imaginative as we can be when it comes to the world as an extension of who we are, since 2004, we have had the proliferation of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Also an abundance of texting has taken place. We know it is not only the computer on our desks at home or at the office, it now travels with us all day no matter where we go because it is much more compact.
Back in 2004, about six months after I was elected, an anti-spam task force was established. At that time, experts were gathered because it was a pressing issue. Let us remember, it is not only the domestic issue at which we are looking. Sometimes we extensively deal in a domestic nature in the House with issues such as the economy, social security, pensions and employment insurance. Sometimes these serve as models for the world to follow, such as our Canada pension plan.
Now we are now completely intertwined with the world. As we know, electronic commerce, or e-commerce, knows no boundaries. It surpasses all that CBSA can put out there. It travels around the globe instantaneously. We are able to connect to the world in a way we never thought possible. I am not saying that is a bad thing. It is absolutely wonderful if we are to achieve a common understanding around the globe. However, it becomes problematic when we have to create domestic legislation to follow suit on international agreements. Therein lies the crux of what we are doing.
Other members have pointed out, and I would wholeheartedly agree, that we are behind the eight ball when it comes to this type of legislation. Legislation has been addressed in other G8 nations and it has gone farther than we have. Now we find ourselves in the situation where we are playing catch up with the rest of the world.
However, that is one issue. We still have to do our due diligence within the House, through debate and committee work, so we can create legislation that has teeth and is effective.
The second phase of this follows from the legislation we create in the House, and that is the enforcement of it, which is very important. This is why the myriad of agencies, as mentioned in this debate, have been brought into this in order to enforce it.
I mentioned the international component of this. Being from the east coast, primarily Newfoundland and Labrador, we have dealt with legislation on an international perspective when it comes to our fisheries. As many past politicians from Newfoundland and Labrador have said, “borders are borders, but fish can swim”, and they swim over borders.
Therefore, the international scope of this issue is much like issues of climate change. Many of the models created to govern our resources are created in international forums. For fisheries, it is the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, NAFO. For climate change, it is the United Nations and other avenues and even the Council of Europe for that matter.
This agreement has taken place through international governance. Now we have to follow with our own domestic legislation. That goes a long way in cluing up and taking our place in the world to deal with this issue.
I have compiled some background information. My compliments to the Library of Parliament for this legislative summary. I want to congratulate Ms. Alysia Davies for compiling this information. She did a fantastic job. She is with the legal and legislative division, Parliamentary Information and Research Service.
There are a few clauses in the bill that deal with the situation at hand.
Following the work of the task force, we had the first go around with Bill C-27. When it made its way through committee, certain changes were brought forward by the committee, as well as the government and the department, which have been incorporated for the most part. That too follows a great debate. Following the prorogation, the bill died on the order paper. Now we are with Bill C-28 and we will do our due diligence yet once again.
As Bill C-27, it was known as the electronic commerce protection act. We now incorporate items that were added to the former ECPA as government amendments during its original passage when it was Bill C-27.
As with the previous bill, the new bill, called “fighting Internet and wireless spam act”, would amend four existing acts that deal with telecommunications regulation, competition and privacy. Among other changes, these amendments designate the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, commonly known as the CRTC, as the main regulator of the fighting Internet and wireless spam act. Also, both the Commissioner of Competition and the Privacy Commissioner will play enforcement roles related to their respective mandates.
There may be some questions. For example, one question earlier in the debate was about the Privacy Commissioner not being mandated to educate the public. That is a very valid point because then it falls within the realm of justice. That certainly needs to be brought out in the House and we need to have a thorough debate as to exactly who will to educate on what is not right, not legal and what fines may result.
My hon. colleague from Manitoba brought up the idea of prosecution for the sake of criminal charges being laid. Right now we are dealing with just fines, but that too should be addressed. In future, this may be re-addressed in this legislation.
I also want to talk about the four pillars. This is a combination of a process that began with the anti-spam action plan in 2004. That was a private sector task force, chaired by Industry Canada, to examine the issue of unsolicited commercial email, which we now know as spam.
By the end of 2004, spam, which is in many ways the electronic equivalent of junk mail, had grown to encompass 80% of global email traffic. Imagine a mailbox with 80% of its mail being junk mail. Many would say that is already happening, and in some cases I am sure it is.
Nonetheless, 80% is a high number because it is so easy and cheap to put out these emails. Typing something in, either a scam or something close to a scam, and feeding it to the masses electronically is much easier than doing it with physical paper.
The task force on spam led the action plan at a round table of national stakeholders in December 2004. We received feedback through announcements in the Canada Gazette and in a dedicated online forum. It issued a report in May 2005. That report recommended, among other measures, legislation specifically aimed at combatting spam, which we are dealing with today. It is a second incarnation of a spam act. The federal government introduced a first attempt back in the 42nd session.
I want to thank two gentlemen from the Senate who did a lot of work prior to this. First is Senator Donald Oliver. Second is former Senator Yoine Goldstein from Montreal, who did a tremendous amount of work on this issue. We owe both former Senator Goldstein and Senator Oliver a debt of gratitude.
The spam act can be seen as a complement to the e-commerce legislation that has gradually been developing in each of the Canadian provinces and territories over the past 10 years.
We owe a debt gratitude to provincial legislation that started back in 1998 under the uniform electronic commerce act created by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. The provincial and territorial acts have thus far served as the underpinning for burgeoning e-commerce sectors across the country. We also owe a debt of gratitude to many of the respective provincial ministers for helping us create the bill in front of us today. Eventually we will deal with the enforcement aspects of it.
Basically what came from that, the main federal legislation related to e-commerce, was the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA, which governs privacy requirements for private sector organizations and electronic documents within federal jurisdiction and in provinces or territories that have not yet established their own similar legislation. This is typical for many pieces of legislation since the inception of Parliament.
As I mentioned, Canada is the last of the G8 countries to introduce specific anti-spam legislation domestically, and a lot of this came from what was negotiated in international fora. Some existing Criminal Code provisions were identified by the task force as being of possible assistance in prosecuting spam cases. The task force worked on this with the Department of Justice and the Technological Crime Branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 2004 and 2005.
This is another element of the bill that should be engaged to a greater degree. We are still on the cusp of understanding the influence that spam emails have around the world. In six years we have come a long way in electronic commerce. We have gone from the nuisance of spam email to Facebook and social media, such as Twitter and other forms of apps, iPads, and so forth. Members get the idea. The platforms are evolving, but the people who are behind the criminal aspect of spam, and some not so criminal, are adapting around the platforms that currently exist. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to try to keep up to date, to ensure people are informed as to what they can and cannot do and to allow the government agencies, at arm's-length, to deal with the enforcement of these issues.
I mentioned the technological crime branch of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the requirements to bring a charge under the existing provisions. However, when the task force report was published, these provisions had not been used for this purpose, so questions remain around that.
Other agencies, such as the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the Competition Bureau, have received complaints from members of the public about spam as well and there was no overarching framework for addressing such complaints. We can see the genesis of this. At the time, the task force was able to tell them to deal with the issue of the Criminal Code and deal the fact that our government agencies are inundated with complaints and that we have to marry the two. The fine situation we have right now was a result of that. That is something we need to address at a future date.
The legislation would provide a clear regulatory scheme, including administrative monetary penalties, or AMPs, with respect to both spam and related threats from unsolicited electronic contact, including, which is the important part, identity theft, phishing, spyware, viruses and botnets. It would also grant an additional right of civil action to businesses and consumers targeted by the perpetrators of such activities. Therein lies another aspect of taking these people to court. Does it hold enough teeth is the expression and this is what I have a few reservations about.
For descriptions and analysis, clause 2, for example, contains its own definition of what we call commercial activity. It is different from the one in PIPEDA, the legislation that served as the paramount legislation for dealing with spam. It does not modify the existing definition to that act but builds on the PIPEDA wording of “any particular transaction, act or conduct or any regular course of conduct that is of a commercial character”, and adds the qualification “whether or not the person who carries it out does so in the expectation of profit”.
Therefore, we get the incentive for doing this when we talk about unsolicited emails and other nefarious activities that I described earlier, the botnets, the spyware and those sorts of things, because those are the programs that are adapting, for a nefarious nature, to solicit from us money taken under circumstances that consumers would consider to be not right. Therefore, it tries to define that for the sake of profit.
It does reflect an intention to widen the scope of who could be considered responsible under the new law in cases where spamming or other activity occurs, possibly implicating Internet service providers, or ISPs, or even those whose computers are being used for spamming without their awareness or consent. We can see how this has taken place.
A lot of situations have developed since we first started the task force about six years ago that this legislation has to address. A lot of that came out of the committee work on Bill C-27 and now enacted within this. Part of clause 2 acknowledges that.
There are also provisions discussed in further detail, which I will talk about in just a little while, but one of the situations was telemarketers and what we call the DNCL, the do not call list, which members of Parliament receive a lot of calls about. I would say that over the past six years of being here, I have certainly dealt with a lot of that and the bill would address it to an extent.
Eighty per cent of global traffic regarding spamming is an incredible amount of activity. This is what this legislation attempts to address. There are key provisions in clauses 7 to 10 and 13.
One of the situations that subclause 7(6) originally added to the predecessor bill through a government amendment that was before the House of Commons under the industry, science and technology committee specified that the prohibitions on sending a commercial or electronic message do not apply to quotes or estimates for the supply of a product, goods, a service, land or an interest or right in land, if the message was requested by the recipient. Therefore, this bill would not impede on the normal course of e-commerce.
We need to face the fact that those businesses, especially the small and medium size businesses, the SMEs, have been successful through the world of Internet and therefore we want to ensure this legislation will not impede upon their efforts to create business and to solicit in what I would call a way that is consistent with good consumer practice.