Canadian Broadcasting Watchdog Publishes Anti Spam Regulations

crtcIf one is to believe the CRTC, then it appears that the much-ballyhooed Canadian Anti  Spam Law is about to become reality after two long years of controversy and debate.

The law, considered by many as being far too constrictive and containing unreasonably stiff penalties, made history in late 2010 as being the first of its kind to put the burden on the sender to ensure that spam recipients have opted in. This is a significant detraction from other laws, like the U.S. equivalent, which only requires that spam recipients are given the option of opting out. In the event that an individual or organization is found guilty under the law, which passed the legislative process in 2010 but has not yet been enforced, tough financial penalties of $1 million per infraction for individuals and $10 million per infraction for organizations are enough to put a dent in anyone’s wallet.

This, of course, has been a source of much concern for organizations like Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, which like many companies (and individuals) is worried that it might inadvertently be caught spamming under the terms of the law when spam was not the intent. Perhaps the delay in enforcement of the law was due to the difficult and controversial implications of what it represents. With such groundbreaking possibilities, especially in today’s global climate of uncertainty, social activism and economic decay, it’s not surprising that the Canadian government held off on enforcing the law while the country had a chance to get accustomed to the idea that it was coming. And if the government was giving the anti spam law time to gestate, it now appears that it’s ready to deliver a newborn.

At least that’s what another Canadian national newspaper, The Financial Post, published this week. In its article “CRTC publishes final anti-spam regulations,” the FP points out that the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has made public its final regulations regarding the law. Similar to the U.S. FCC, the CRTC is the nation’s telecommunications regulating body, enforcing everything from what radio bandwidths must be used by radio stations to the content that Canadian television broadcasters may and may not provide.

Why then, might you ask, are the CRTC dipping their big toe into the waters of the Internets? Well, quite simply, the CRTC also regulates telecoms and cable providers, and Canada’s two largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) happen to be Bell Canada Enterprises and Rogers Telecommunications, both which have some responsibility to adhere to the CRTC’s rules and regulations since they both provide TV services and Bell is Canada’s largest telephone company. (NB – while Rogers also provides telephone service, it’s managed to escape the clutches of the CRTC by labeling it as Internet phone service)

The CRTC document is short and sweet, covering only two pages, and you have to wonder at the “Information to be included in commercial electronic messages:” just how in the heck does the CRTC, or any other agency for that matter, intend on enforcing these items? Essentially, they’re saying that every spam e-mail message must have the name and contact information of the sender, a cute idea in theory and probably very useful if you want to pick up the phone, call the spam issuer and tell them to piss off and stop sending you spam e-mails.

The FP also notes that the law now only needs related regulations being proposed by Industry Canada, the Canadian government agency responsible for consumer issues, and the appointment of a vendor to run the ‘Spam Reporting Centre’ required by the law. Perhaps those will come online in the coming months, but as all this starts to become reality, one must wonder: as long as there has been spam, there’s been a very real need to make the spammers accountable. But in the real world, finding the spammers and making them accountable is a much different story. When one considers the 419 spammers, the pharma scams and the phishing attacks, how exactly does the Canadian government hope to convict and collect?

Exactly. If you read between the lines there, then what you’re left with are the somewhat ‘respectable’ spammers and those who aren’t at all aware that they are spammers.

Perhaps this genie needs to be put back in the bottle.

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