Madam Speaker, I rise here today to speak to Bill C-28, once known as the Fighting Wireless and Internet Spam Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-28, which was previously known as Bill C-27, but which died on the order paper at prorogation. A number of minor changes have been made, but the overall text, its objectives and key elements remain the same.
New legislation that specifically targets unsolicited commercial electronic messages has been needed and requested by society as a whole for some time now. Governments, Internet service providers, network operators and consumers are all affected by the problem of spam. Preserving the efficiency of legitimate electronic commerce is a vital and pressing issue. Not only are 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 the online economy.
The Bloc Québécois is pleased to see that Bill C-28 takes into account most of the recommendations in the final report of the task force on spam. On the other hand, we are upset that the legislative process has taken four long years. Computer technology is evolving at astonishing speeds, and spammers keep finding new ways to achieve their goals. Accordingly, consideration of the bill in committee should give many industry stakeholders and consumer protection groups an opportunity to express their views on the proposed Electronic Commerce Protection Act. A number of other points also need to be examined in committee and I will come back to those points later on in my speech.
The task force on spam was struck in 2004 to look into this problem, which is constantly evolving, and to find ways of dealing with it. The task force heard from Internet service providers, electronic marketing experts and government and consumer representatives.
In all, more than 60 stakeholders took part in the discussions, providing input on issues such as legislation and law enforcement, international co-operation, and public education and awareness. In addition to launching an Internet-based consumer awareness campaign entitled “Stop Spam Here” to inform users of steps they can take to limit and control the volume of spam they receive, the task force on spam presented its final report to the Minister of Industry on May 17, 2005.
Entitled “Stopping Spam: Creating a Stronger, Safer Internet”, this report calls for new, targeted legislation and more rigorous enforcement to strengthen the legal and regulatory weapons that Canada could use in the global battle against spam.
The report also supports the creation of a focal point within government for coordinating the actions taken to address the spam issue and other related problems like spyware.
Among the report's key recommendations are more vigorous legislation and enforcement and legislation to prohibit spam and protect personal information and privacy, as well as computers, emails and networks.
The proposed legislation is designed to 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.
In addition, new and existing resources of the organizations responsible for the administration and enforcement of anti-spam laws should be strengthened.
The task force recommended creating a centre to coordinate the government's anti-spam initiatives. This focal point would coordinate policy and education campaigns and support law enforcement efforts. It would also receive complaints and compile statistics on spam.
To curb the volume of spam reaching users, the task force developed a series of industry best practices for Internet service providers, network operators and email marketers. Examples include allowing ISPs and other network operators to block email file attachments known to carry viruses and to stop emails with deceptive subject lines.
As well, email marketers would be required to obtain informed consent from recipients to receive emails, provide an opting-out mechanism for further emails and create a complaints system. The report recommends that these groups voluntarily adopt, regularly review and enhance the best practices.
To help change people's online behaviour, the task force created an online public education campaign called “Stop Spam Here”. Launched in 2004, the website offers consumers, volunteer organizations and businesses practical tips for protecting their personal information, computers and email addresses. The task force recommended that all partners continue to enhance the site's content.
Since most of the spam reaching Canadians comes from outside the country, international measures to stem spam are vital. Therefore, the task force proposed that the government continue its efforts to harmonize anti-spam policies and to improve cooperation among all countries to enforce anti-spam laws.
Four years later, on April 24, 2009, the Government of Canada finally introduced new legislation to protect electronic commerce, namely, Bill C-27. Inspired primarily by the final report of the task force on spam, Bill C-27 established a framework to protect electronic commerce. To achieve that, the bill would enact the new Electronic Commerce Protection Act, or ECPA. Basically, this act would set limits on the sending of spam.
Spam can be defined as any electronic commercial message sent without the express consent of the recipient. It can be any electronic commercial message, any text, audio, voice or visual message sent by any means of telecommunication, whether by email, cellular phone text messaging or instant messaging. Considering the content of the message, it would be reasonable to conclude its purpose is to encourage participation in a commercial activity, including an electronic message that offers to purchase, sell, barter or lease a product, goods, a service, land or an interest or right in land, or a business, investment or gaming opportunity.
Note that the following types of commercial messages, which appear in clause 7, are not considered to be spam: 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 consists 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; messages sent by means of a facsimile to a telephone account; messages that are a voice recording sent to a telephone account; a message that is of a class, or is sent in circumstances, specified in the regulations.
This means that, under this legislation, sending spam to an electronic address—email, instant messenger, telephone or any other similar account—would be prohibited. The only circumstances under which it would be allowed 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. Lastly, the message must include an unsubscribe mechanism, with an email address or hyperlink, so that the recipient can indicate that he or she does not want to receive any further commercial electronic messages from the sender.
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.
There are provisions for administrative recourse. Anyone who contravenes, even indirectly, any of these provisions would be liable to an administrative monetary penalty, or AMP, if the computer used is located in Canada. The maximum AMP is up to $1 million for individuals and up to $10 million in all other cases. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the CRTC, will be responsible for investigating complaints and, when necessary, imposing the penalties. Furthermore, the CRTC will have the authority to apply for an injunction if it finds that a person is about to or is likely to carry out a violation.
In order to carry out these inquiries, the CRTC would have interesting powers. It could require a person to preserve transmission data, produce a copy of a document that is in their possession or prepare a document based on data, information or documents that are in their possession. It could even conduct a site visit in order to gather such information or, if necessary, to establish whether there was a violation under clauses 6 to 9. Note that it will have to get a warrant from a justice of the peace prior to entering premises.
An individual who refuses or fails to comply with a demand under clauses 15, 17 or 19 will be guilty of an offence and subject to a fine of up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for repeat offences. Businesses will be subject to a fine of up to $100,000 for a first offence and $250,000 for repeat offences.
There are also private remedies. Bill C-28 provides for the creation of a private right of action, modelled on U.S. legislation, that would enable businesses and individuals to initiate civil proceedings against any person who contravenes clauses 6 to 9 of the new act.
If the court believes that a person has contravened any of these provisions, it may order that person to pay an amount corresponding to either the loss or damage suffered or the expenses incurred. If the applicant is unable to establish these amounts, the court may order the applicant to be paid a maximum amount of $200 for each contravention, up to a maximum of $1 million.
Bill C-28 also proposes an extension of the co-operation and information exchange powers for anything that has to do with the Competition Act, the Telecommunications Act or the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
For example, any organization to which part 1 of that act applies may on its own initiative disclose to the CRTC, the Commissioner of Competition or the Privacy Commissioner any information in its possession that it believes relates to a violation of the act. The CRTC, the Commissioner of Competition or the Privacy Commissioner must also consult with each other and may share any information necessary to carry out their activities and responsibilities in accordance with the act.
Over the years, unsolicited commercial electronic messages have turned into a major social and economic problem that undermines the business and personal productivity of Quebeckers. Not only does spam impede the use of email for personal communication, but it also threatens the growth of legitimate e-commerce.
The Internet has become an essential tool for commerce and communication in general. According to the government, the online marketplace represents an important segment of the Canadian and Quebec economies. In fact, there was $62.7 billion in sales in 2007. In 2009, e-commerce reportedly surpassed $8.75 trillion. But the Internet and e-commerce are also becoming increasingly vulnerable and threatened.
Spam accounts for more than 80% of global electronic traffic, which results in considerable expenses for businesses and consumers. Spam is a real nuisance. It damages computers and networks, contributes to deceptive and fraudulent marketing scams, and invades people's privacy. On a larger scale, spam directly threatens the viability of the Internet as an efficient means of communication, undermines consumer confidence in legitimate e-businesses and hinders electronic transactions. And in the end, everyone loses.
The need for new legislation dealing with unsolicited electronic messages has been urgent for far too long. The Bloc Québécois is pleased to see that Bill C-28 covers most of the recommendations made by the task force on spam. However, we deplore the fact that the legislative process has taken four long years. Computer technology is evolving at astonishing speeds, and spammers keep finding new ways to achieve their goal. In terms of information technology, four years is an eternity.
Consideration of the bill in committee should give many industry stakeholders and consumer protection groups an opportunity to express their views on the relevance of new electronic commerce protection legislation. The committee should also study the exchange of information between the CRTC, the Commissioner of Competition and the Privacy Commissioner. And while we want these exchanges to take place in order to maximize the efficiency of the ECPA, any personal information that is shared must always remain confidential. This is even more critical because this information could be shared with foreign states. The question of vigilance in relation to protecting commercial ties between businesses and consumers will also be studied in committee. And although the ECPA's provisions on this subject may seem to be sufficient, industry evidence must be considered because this legislation cannot slow down the use of the Internet as a catalyst for and facilitator of trade.