CASL Costs Businesses Big Time

make-love-not-spam-1-638CASL, the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation, has had its fair share of detractors. The law, which came into effect on July 1st, was first passed by Canadian Parliament in 2010, and since then, it’s struggled to become a big boy and leave the nest, mostly because the ruling Conservative Party of Canada, which authored and passed the bill, forget to tell their friends – big business – that they could face stiff fines for bugging people via email. A large part of the criticism has been over the way the Stephen Harper-led government bragged about CASL and how it’s the toughest of its kind in the world, while failing to point out that Canada is the last G-8 nation to have such a law (the US and Australia anti spam laws have been in effect since the early 2000s).

Then there was the lobbying by big business. Large media companies like Bell Media didn’t like the idea that they’d be subject to laws that were meant for the ‘little people,’ apparently. The government caved, allowing several ‘public consultations’ to occur, and those consultations were the ammo the government needed to water down the legislation.

Then there was the ongoing slamming of Canada’s law, suggesting that it was confusing and that it targeted the wrong people. There were criticisms over CASL’s ability to target and penalize the true source of spam. There was, of course, the waiting. The long road of mindless talking, with no action.

There was panic when the live date for the law was announced. Companies and other organizations scrambled to understand what their responsibilities were, what they needed to do to become compliant, and of course, they had to contact everyone on their mailing lists. Finally, there was a simple yet haunting piece of truth, embedded in the words of Internet and privacy lawyer David Fraser, as he called the new law “a mess.”

With such impressive beginnings, one couldn’t help but wonder what the first year of a CASL-enabled world would look like, and as might have been predicted, we didn’t need a year to decide that Mr. Fraser’s words were prophetic in an epic manner. In a recent article by the Thompson Citizen, it’s discussed how companies are coming to grips with the new law while political parties get a pass when it comes to spam in Canada. The reason that might be, suggests the Citizen, is that the Conservative government knows full-well that there’s a general election in Canada in 2015. Wouldn’t it be embarrassing if Prime Minister Harper’s own party was dinged with a big old fine by the monster it created?

The Citizen points out how businesses, not spammers, are the true losers in Canada’s war on spam, describing the law as “costing Canadian businesses millions to implement but…few believe [it] will put any kind of dent in phishing scams and spam.” Fines for CASL infringement have maximums of $1 million for personal violations to $10 million for organizational infractions, not chump change, not even for those aforementioned big corporations. Realistically, the article points out, those maximums won’t be used much, save for only the worst offenders.

Patricia Valladao, a spokesperson for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – the organization tasked with enforcing the law – says that the law isn’t meant to be a hammer.  “Our objective is not to punish but rather to achieve compliance in the most efficient way possible while preventing recidivism,” she told the Citizen.

But the government of Canada doesn’t seem to understand that punishment has begun without a single fine being levied. Canadian companies, the Citizen says, “need not be fined to have CASL hit them in the pocketbooks. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) estimates it is costing small and medium-sized businesses in Canada between $30,000 and $50,000 to become compliant with CASL.” And that is definitely not chump change for small companies, which constitute a significant portion of businesses in Canada.

In addition to the hard costs associated with becoming compliant, there’s another direct penalty that companies are experiencing, and this penalty could cost much more than $50,000. Businesses “are also losing significant volumes of business contacts, thanks to CASL’s requirement that businesses get implied or express consent of recipients to send any kind of electronic message that has a commercial intent. Businesses had until July 1 to get the express consent of their subscribers and business contacts.”

As we pointed out recently, businesses in Canada are already seeing the effect of this, as consumers are sending a very distinct message: ‘we don’t want your spam.’ And that’s a good thing.

Unless you’re a business owner in Canada.