Canadians could see more spam in their inboxes, NDP warn

OTTAWA – Canadians could be seeing more junk in their inboxes if the federal government moves to amend its anti-spam laws, as recently recommended by a House of Commons committee.

The NDP are sounding the alarm that the recommended changes to the rules around companies sending consumers texts, emails, and other electronic messages, could loosen the interpretation of the law in a way that could result in an increase in the amount of spam mail consumers receive.

“There’s no doubt that this piece of legislation is so germane to their life that it can be easily overlooked, but at the same time could have some of the most severe consequences for them, their family, and their businesses,” said NDP innovation critic Brian Masse in a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday.

His concern stems from recommendations to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, made in a House Industry, Science, and Technology Committee report. The report detailed the committee’s findings after conducting a routine review of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation.

Masse said he wanted to raise the issue because the tabling of the committee report was buried in the end-of-sitting hubbub last week.

The report recommends making several “clarifications” to the law, including wiping the word “spam” from the name of the law.

The committee recommended the law name be changed to: “Electronic Commerce Protection Act.”

Among the other recommended changes in the committee report:
Clarify the definition of “commercial electronic message” and “electronic address”;

Examine various provisions to not create unintended costs to comply with the law, citing examples like administrative and transactional messages; and
Look at the way the law is being applied to charities and non-profits.

“Electronic messaging is no longer just sitting at your desktop anymore, it’s what you carry around and you make phone calls for your kids, for your family, for emergencies, for businesses. Having it jammed up with unsolicited and unwanted electronic messaging, that is counterproductive,” he said.

The report also noted that some witnesses that testified at the committee on this study suggested switching to an opt-out based system, instead of the current requirement for companies to get consumer consent before sending them electronic messages.

The law as is came, into force in 2014 to try to curb the amount of spam Canadians were receiving. It puts rules in place for how businesses and organizations can communicate electronically with clients, and how their personal information can be used for marketing.

The report states that since the rules were put in place, the amount of spam in Canada has decreased by a third.

The federal government  halted the implementation of a part of Canada’s anti-spam law, which would have allowed Canadians to sue businesses that violate spam rules. The part of the law, called the "private right of action" was scheduled to take effect July 1. But in response to "broad-based concerns" raised by businesses and various organizations, the government announced in June that the provision has been suspended indefinitely.

Masse said the committee recommendations aimed at “watering down” the bill’s wording can be traced back to testimony made by some businesses who argued the rules are too prescriptive, costly to follow, and have had a chilling effect on commercial electronic communications.

He thinks making these changes would be rewarding bad behaviour, instead of benefitting the companies that are following the law, and have adopted good consumer contact practices by setting up subscription services, for example.
In the report, consumer groups argued that there has yet to be enough data collected to support changing the law.

The NDP are recommending instead, the federal government should offer training to businesses that are having trouble navigating the current rules, to address their concerns.

Masse also suggested...

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