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Stupid Media Watch: All of Us Idiots are Missing the Point

7/1/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
Tireless Canadian anti-spam law defender Michael Geist got an op-ed published last week explaining how imbecilic detractors, like me, of the most dumbassed piece of legislation in the history of email have got it all wrong.
 
Apparently, when we say Canada’s anti-spam law, or CASL—officially in force as of today—will do nothing to thwart spam, we’re missing the point.
 
 “Those arguing that the new law will have little impact on spam miss the point: the law is shifting privacy expectations in how our information is collected and used,” wrote Geist, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law.
 
Ah, what a bunch of simpletons we are. We thought a law with “anti-spam” in its name was aimed at fighting spam.
 
Maybe if it was called the Canadian shifting-privacy-expectations law, we mightn’t have so blatantly missed the point. Those of us with limited intellect must have things spelled out for us, after all.
 
To be fair, the law’s official title doesn’t contain the phrase “anti-spam.”
 
The law is officially called: “An Act to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy by regulating certain activities that discourage reliance on electronic means of carrying out commercial activities, and to amend the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission Act, the Competition Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Telecommunications Act.”
 
But that’s a bit of a mouthful so Canada’s government refers to it on its web pages as “Canada’s anti-spam legislation.” 
 
So maybe folks like me who sign our checks in crayon and fasten our sneakers with Velcro because we don’t have the intellectual capacity to learn to tie laces can be forgiven for thinking that when a government calls a law “anti” something it is aimed at fighting that thing.
 
Pass the drool bucket, please.
 
But here’s the thing: CASL detractors aren’t arguing the law won’t stop spam. They’re pointing out it won’t stop spam as one fact in a larger argument: CASL puts onerous burdens on, and poses grave dangers to the good guys while posing little to no threat to the vast majority of bad guys.
 
CASL has schools and charities scrambling to comply with it. And for what?
 
As a counter example, the unfairly derided U.S. Can-Spam Act gave American law enforcement some new tools to go after bad guys, but does not place unreasonable burdens on email marketers.
 
Yes, many U.S. marketers use the Can-Spam Act as an excuse to engage in seriously stupid behavior. But we have spam filters in place that do a fine job of punishing them without getting law enforcement involved.
 
And maybe I can be excused if I’m still a bit flummoxed. If pointing out CASL will have little impact on the thing its title says it’s “anti” misses the point, and shifting privacy expectations in how our information is collected and used is the point, well, what’s the point?
 
Is shifting privacy expectations a noble end in and of itself?
 
No.
 
Shifting privacy expectations should accomplish something beneficial beyond the simple shifting of expectations. Not unreasonably, the law should be expected to help stop something bad from happening—bad enough to make the costs of compliance and doing business under the threat of punishment worthwhile.
 
And if the bad thing a so-called anti-spam law helps to stop from happening isn’t spam—as so many of us dolts interpreted the law’s title to mean—then what will it help to stop?
 
What nefarious activity that can’t be mitigated through less onerous means should the law be expected to mitigate? 
 
For all it will cost and the severe threats it poses—hefty fines and individual lawsuits—what will the law accomplish to make those costs worth paying and the threats worth facing? None of its proponents have an honest, coherent answer to that question.
 
By claiming that naysayers miss the point in pointing out the law won’t do what it clearly states it’s aimed at doing, Geist has declared himself unaccountable when the law doesn’t do what its title clearly states it is designed to do.
 
When the law doesn’t inflict economic disaster on Canada—which it won’t—and a couple affiliate spammers get smacked, Geist and other CASL supporters can claim victory.
 
No one will be able measure sales not made or jobs not created as a result of the needless burdens place on businesses by Canada’s anti-spam law. No one will be able to measure products not developed or charitable goals not met because of dollars diverted and email lists decimated to comply with Canada’s new requirements.
 
The costly negative aspects of Canada’s anti-spam law will not be obvious to most individuals.
 
Its ineffectiveness will be obvious, though. Everyone will be able to see the new so-called anti-spam law will have done nothing to thwart spam. Their spam folders will be all the evidence they need.
 
So if you’re a supporter of Canada’s anti-spam law, you must move the goal posts before the game even begins by claiming that arguing the law won’t do what it so obviously says it’s intended to do is missing the point. 
 
You must knock down an argument detractors are not making, or at least dismiss a small part of a larger argument and fail to address the larger argument—which is what Geist has just done.
 
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