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Canada's Dangerous, Needless Anti-Spam Law Delayed Again


By Ken Magill

Canadian officials last week reportedly disclosed that the best-case scenario for the country’s long-delayed anti-spam law is that final regulations get released late this summer and it goes into effect in the fall of 2014. Moreover, some provisions won’t go into effect until 2017.

The law was passed in 2010, but has been held up by pressure from lobbying groups who recognize it for the dangerous, utterly absurd attempt to regulate a non-problem that it is.

The law requires explicit permission to send commercial email and so narrowly defines exceptions that innocent people sending perfectly innocuous email may find themselves on the wrong side of it, according to at least one Canadian lawyer.

What is more, it allows individuals to sue and includes huge penalties—a potentially business-crippling combination.

Now that it has been mercifully delayed again, some of its supporters are expressing fear it may be shelved altogether.

“With the government reportedly preparing a major cabinet shuffle this summer that may include another change at Industry Canada, it appears that it may be ready to can its own anti-spam law,” wrote law professor and staunch supporter of the law, Michael Geist, in the Toronto Star. “Should the cabinet shuffle result in a new industry minister, the entire issue will likely go back to the drawing board with the prospect of new briefings, new consultations, and delays that could stretch into 2015 and beyond.”

We can only hope.

“[H]eavy lobbying has left some politicians unsure of what to make of the law, understandably concerned when small businesses claim it will stop electronic marketing and charities express fear that it will cut off important sources of funding,” continued Geist.

“Yet the reality is not nearly as frightening as critics suggest. Businesses have been given years to adapt to the new system and a simple request for customer consent sometime before 2017 would address the key consent requirement.”

A simple request.

Life is always so simple for academics, isn’t it? At least it’s simple when it affects other people.

Presumably, Geist’s simple request for permission involves a significant number of commercial emailers re-opting in their files.

Remember, Canada’s new law bars prechecked boxes. Also, Industry Canada has rejected grandfathering “consents” obtained under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which has governed email marketing in Canada since 2000.

As a result, companies that have been collecting email addresses for years using prechecked boxes will have to re-qualify their files.

“Re-qualify” in this case is a synonym for “decimate.”

With the exception of an occasional stray, people are not getting unsolicited commercial email in their inboxes. Inbox providers have become astonishingly good at filtering spam.

If Canada’s anti-spam law ever goes into effect, it will needlessly cost a lot of law-abiding companies a lot of money. It won’t put even the slightest dent in the stuff hitting our spam folders and getting blocked.

It will be a loaded gun pointed at commercial emailers who are not a problem.

This latest delay indicates that maybe Canadian officials understand more about this law than they’re letting on.


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