Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-28, the electronic commerce protection bill.
As has been discussed here, the purpose of the bill is to deal with the issue of spam. The bill would prohibit the sending of commercial electronic messages, or spam, without the prior consent of the recipients.
Spam represents about 60% to 80% of Internet traffic worldwide, and it is a serious problem for Canadian individuals and Canadian businesses. In recognition of the seriousness of the issue, the Liberal government in 2004-05 established an anti-spam task force that came up with recommendations.
The recommendations called for the government to introduce legislation that would: first, prohibit the sending of spam without the prior consent of the recipient; second, prohibit the use of false or misleading statements that disguise the origin or the true intent of the email; third, prohibit the installation of unauthorized programs; and, fourth, prohibit the unauthorized collection of personal information or email address.
I am pleased to see that the Conservative government, through Bill C-28, is enacting all of these recommendations. However, we need the legislation immediately as Canadians are suffering because of the lack of legislation.
Twenty years ago, a computer was not essential in carrying out our daily lives. However, now it is important to small businesses, corporations, non-profit organizations, hospitals, students, seniors and even our parents and grandparents use one. It is a mode of operation. It is a way of life. It facilitates, hopefully, the ease of transactions. People like to do their banking, pay their bills, et cetera on the computer.
With the ease of using computers and sharing information, however, a problem is created. It is the unwarranted advertising or misinformation and potential threats. We all know too well the consequences of spam. It brings with it viruses and worms.
In 2003, Canadian consumers and businesses spent approximately $27 billion to develop a phishing program. Members should reflect on the amount of money Canadian businesses had to spend. It probably constitutes the budget of three developing countries. A critical issue is the amount of money that was spent and yet the problem has grown worse.
Why is spam a critical issue? First, it is unwanted; second, it makes the utilization of our computer or our technology inefficient; and, third, it is costly. Computer technology was supposed to make our lives easy, efficient and effective. It was supposed to do things on an economical basis and it was supposed to be paperless.
In my previous occupation as a management consultant, I used to talk about the 3E's of business: economy, efficiency and effectiveness. I used to tell users that by using technology they would make life easier for themselves, things would be simplified and everything would go well.
As we reflect on spam, let us look at the economic aspect of it. Has it become economical to use the computer? I think a lot of us would say that is debatable. As I mentioned, Canadian businesses have collectively spent $27 billion on a phishing program. Imagine what could have been done with $27 billion. Imagine the amount of investment that could have been made and the jobs that could have been created. From an economic perspective, there does not seem to be any economic benefits or the economic benefits have been diluted because of spam. Therefore, the Liberals made recommendations to alleviate the economic pitfalls.
Let us look at this from an efficiency standpoint. Sixty to seventy per cent of Internet traffic is spam. A small or medium sized enterprise can ill-afford this type of ineffective utilization of its computers. Employees or business owners have to waste time looking at that spam mail and figuring out what to do with it. Instead of being effective or productive, they have to start clearing out the spam. In terms of efficiency, spam is a thorn in the side of efficiency, be it for businesses or individuals.
How many times have we ourselves been overloaded with spam? I am sure all of us have had first-hand experience with spam where we get false and misleading information from institutions purporting to be banks and false or misleading information from organizations. In fact, sometimes it could be a personal spam that is sent to us, and I can attest to that. As I was looking through my own email, I noticed an SOS from a constituent and I wondered what was wrong. As I looked at that email, I realized that the constituent's email had been compromised, especially because I knew the constituent and I knew that she would never ask for money. It claimed that she was stuck in some foreign land.
People who do not understand or do not know the person who is sending an SOS notice try to be good Samaritans and they might just be misled into giving money and being defrauded.
Spam, and subsequently the possibility of fraud, is a huge problem for all of us. It is important that we, as a collective, address the issues.
Sometimes we think we have secure accounts. Our BlackBerrys are secure accounts but how many of us receive junk on our BlackBerrys? How many of us think that this is such a secure account, how did somebody access it?
If we look at what is going on in this day and age where technology is easy, where people can hack through anything, we need to be careful that we have legislation in place to protect Canadians from misleading or fraudulent activities.
We know what to do with junk mail. We park the junk mail. However, some people who do not know what to do with it and sometimes respond. Sometimes we get emails stating that our computers are at risk. This is a classic example where people download a program that will protect them from viruses or worms and then the computer freezes. Many constituents have complained that this has happened to them and they want to know if there is any protection for them. We have now downloaded a virus and the person who has sent us the virus is looking for us to buy his or her own anti-virus or firewall. This is trying to cheat Canadians and cheat people who are unsuspecting of what is going on. By sometimes naively downloading files or pictures, et cetera, worms and viruses have entered the system and it has been problematic for Canadian businesses.
We have heard of receiving emails that appear to come from our financial institutions. If we are naive enough and do not verify with the banks whether they have sent us this email, we can compromise our bank accounts. This has happened to many seniors. They have been defrauded of their life savings by unscrupulous people.
Therefore, to address this very important issue, the Liberals released a report in 2005 entitled, “Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger, Safer Internet”. As we mentioned earlier, the task force made many recommendations. Among those were the prohibition of sending unsolicited email or the use of misleading statements, funny titles, products, et cetera.
These are important changes and I do not think anyone in the House would object to what Bill C-28 proposes. However, we may object to the fact that it is a little too late, that we have not got on with the program and that we have not moved with the world.
I am sure many members of the House have received complaints from constituents because the issue is compounded when things are deregulated or contracted out. For example, when the telephone service is contracted out or the banking service is done in India, China or Brazil, there is a problem because the government's ability to control or combat spam is not just about introducing legislation, but it is also about working with world governments and organizations to develop an international strategy for reducing this ongoing burden of spam.
Internet policing is difficult as the traffic is humongous. I mentioned that 60% to 80% of the Internet traffic is spam. The sheer volume of messages challenges the capacity of the ISP, the Internet service provider, or legitimate businesses to do business. They have to put all sorts of firewalls up to help prevent their businesses from being hacked.
It was only a matter of time before spammers began to take advantage of our country. Canada ranks fifth worldwide as a source of web-based email spam, trailing Iran, Nigeria, Kenya and Israel. The recent Facebook case that has been referred to has placed the spotlight on Canada's ongoing failure to address its spam problem by introducing long overdue anti-spam legislation. The case is only the latest to illustrate that the government's inaction has had an impact. The fact that organizations are forced to use U.S. courts and laws to deal with Canadian spammers points to an inconvenient truth; that Canadian anti-spam laws are woefully inadequate and we are rapidly emerging as a haven for spammers eager to exploit our weak legal framework.
One of my colleagues talked about the information-sharing agreements, that we sign tax treaties and that we have trade treaties. We have a relationship with so many countries. It is absolutely unconscionable that Bill C-28 does not somehow link these relationships that we already have. Why are we not linking our anti-spam legislation so we can be assisted internationally?
We have these information-sharing agreements with regards to matters before us. Spam costs worldwide $130 billion in terms of costs and damages. Canada is ranked fifth in terms of web-based spam.
We need to ensure that the government does not drag its feet on this very important issue. It has been five years since the bill first came to us. It has already been disclosed that we have not gone as far as the other G8 countries. We are the only G8 country and one of four OECD countries that does not even have legislation. A member of the committee just said that we would be playing catch-up because we did not go far enough.
Michael Geist, who is an expert in Internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, said that there were several Canadian companies among the roughly 200 top spamming organizations in the world. They account for about 80% of the spam generated. He pointed out that junk mail could go beyond nuisance and result in hacking and fraud. That is a big problem for a lot of businesses and individuals.
As I mentioned, many people have been defrauded of their savings. Many computers have been compromised. Therefore, it is important that Bill C-28 be passed quickly so at least there is a first step in getting anti-spam legislation.
In particular, a new section needs to be added to define false or misleading representation by electronic message as an offence. This offence extends not only to the content of the message, but also to its sender and subject matter information, as well as its locator. It is not necessary to prove that someone was mislead or deceived by the message or even that the person was the intended recipient. It is sufficient to prove that the message was misleading or deceptive.
The penalties for this new offence are a prison term of up to 14 years or a fine at the discretion of the court for an indictment of both or a prison term of up to one year or a fine up to $200,000 for a summary conviction, or both, which is clause 76.
At this junction, I would like to draw attention to government members. It could be troublesome for members of the government as they continue to send messages touting the dubious benefits of many pieces of its fiscal legislation. I look forward to the finance minister's tweets on the budget becoming one of the first enforcement actions emanating from the passage of this law. I wonder if emailing some of the debates in the House might also cause someone to be charged under this act.
In all seriousness, we must be mindful that the intent of this act is not to limit freedom of speech, but to stop some of the more egregious examples of spamming and fraud that is prevalent and obvious to anyone who has an email account.
It is important, as we move forward, that we know that Internet policing may be difficult. Internet trafficking is creating a lot of problems, but with problems there are solutions. In finding solutions, we need to know what we are dealing with. If the government is serious about introducing legislation, it is important that we move quickly to enforce the legislation.
Industry Canada cannot do its own work without the necessary resources. I would like to know the resources the government will commit to Industry Canada to ensure effective corrective solutions. It is extremely important for people everywhere in Canada to have confidence that the legislation provided by the government will be effective and that there are appropriate sanctions. I believe any legislation brought forward must ensure that we have proper resources and effective coordination.
A rapid response to correct this problem would ensure that those who see Canada as a target would find another place. However, we do not want them to find another place because that other place is where we also do our business in the financial and banking sectors.
I hope we will work with the international community to ensure we have a reduction in spam. I hope all members will support the bill so it will provide fast relief to Canadians.