Is Spam Law Targeting the Wrong People?

casl are you readyIn less than two weeks, the long-awaited Canadian Anti Spam Legislation (CASL) will finally go into effect after four long years of humming and hawing by the Canadian government. There are many – I included – who are crying “it’s about time,” but is the last legislation of its type by the G8 countries a red herring? Does it have any hope of being a bleeding-edge stab at the heart of the sleazy world of spam, or is it simply a lame duck, waiting for July 1st to quack quietly and hobble off into the sunset?

No-one will know for sure until we start seeing some a) action or b) inaction by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the private, government-mandated authority which has been tasked with enforcing the law. Early indications suggest that we’re all in for a big disappointment when July 1st comes and goes. The CRTC themselves have doubted their own ability to enforce the new anti-spam law. According to CTV News, “Manon Bombardier, the CRTC’s chief compliance and enforcement officer, says she expects there will be hundreds of complaints pouring in each and every day.  “We don’t have the capacity to look at them all, it would not be efficient to look at them all, so we need to be strategic,” she says.”

By “we need to be strategic,” we assume she means that they’ll make a few quick examples using CASL, to set the tone, and then go into hiding as much as they can. The Stephen Harper-led Canadian government hasn’t exactly been a beacon of hope in the way it runs things, and the law, which began as a fresh new bill back in 2010, has been lobbied hard by corporations fearful of a law that might hamper them from making more money. By means of public consultations and revisions, the big business-friendly Conservative government has run the bill through the wash so many times that it’s only a faded memory of what it once was.

And by handing off enforcement to the CRTC, which already has the mandate for radio, television, and Internet communications, the writing’s on the wall: don’t expect the law to have much in the way of teeth. There’s been no suggestion that the Harper government will give the CRTC any more money to enforce the law, so you do the math.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that examples will be made, at least at the outset of the law’s nascence. Under the law, if you’re a family member, and that means a father, mother, son, or daughter, grandparent or first cousin, you’re free to spam each other to your heart’s content without violating the law. If, however, you’re merely a good friend of the family or a second cousin, you’re subject to breaking the law if you blast emails to those you know and care about. Now, it’s pretty inconceivable that someone would blow the whistle on their second cousin for spamming them, but if it happened, that individual could be subjected to stiff penalties as high as a million dollars.

Businesses, on the other hand, face penalties as high as $10 million, and while the law seems pretty straightforward in its language, performing the necessary tasks to be in compliance aren’t. Under CASL, anyone who sends unsolicited email to another needs to get express written consent first. So if you’re a small business or charity whose reliance for sustenance often relies on marketing emails to large groups of users, after July 1st you have to contact every one of those users and obtain their permission to email them offers and promotions.

Needless to say, businesses have been scrambling to understand what the new law means to them and how they need to react to be in compliance with CASL. There are plenty of consultants cashing in on the confusion, and understanding what ‘opt-in’ means has led to confusion for businesses across the country.

Add to the mix that the law applies to any email sent to Canada, and now you have genuine chaos. Legitimate American businesses, for example, are subject to criminal violation if they blast emails to individuals in Canada, and that begs the question: if the CRTC is in doubt about their ability to enforce Canadian-sourced spam ,exactly how will they deal with the rest of the world?

We’ve even seen an increase in spam activity prior to the law’s enactment. And the truth becomes self-evident. The real targets of the spam law should be criminal spammers, the ones all of us are most concerned about. At first blush, it appears that the new CASL won’t have any effect on them, and so what we’re left with is a bunch of innocent people getting caught in the crossfire of the global war on spam.

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