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Canada Finishes its Spam Task Force, Result is Pretty Good

Industry Canada, the part of the Canadian government roughly equivalent to the U.S. Commerce Department, has had a task force on spam working for the past year or so. I was invited to participate as an unofficial member, since I’m not a Canadian.

Yesterday, it wrapped up its work and published its report (aussi disponsible en francais) to the government. It’s quite good, and has a set of 22 recommendations.

Number 3 recommends that commercial e-mail be opt-in, that is, companies can send ads only to people who’ve asked for them. Even the Canadian Marketing Association, which is light years ahead of the American DMA, agrees with this.

Number 4 recommends that sending spam be made a specific offense, and that individial and business recipients should have a private right of action.

Number 7 and numbers 18 through 20 note the importance of coordinating with other countries and recommend various kinds of cooperation, since the majority of spam that lands in Canada didn’t originate there.

Numbers 8 through 11 tell ISPs to follow technical best practices and to adopt and enforce anti-spam Acceptable Use Policies.

Numbers 12 through 14 tell commercial mailers to adopt best practices and to move toward certification to make it easier to tell legitimate bulk mail from spam.

They include best practices for ISPs and for e-mail marketers, both of which offer good advice to ISPs and mailers everywhere, not just in Canada.

I wrote the glossary for the main report and a non-technical companion to the ISP best practices, but I like the whole thing. If only we could get the US government to take as clear-eyed a look at the spam problem.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker

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John Glube  –  May 24, 2005 5:22 PM

As a Canadian, thank you and Neil Schwartzman of CAUCE Canada for your yeoman efforts in helping to put together such an invaluable report.

Section 10 of the Act requires the FTC to submit a report to Congress on the legislative effectiveness “and the need (if any) for the Congress to modify such provisions.” This report must be filed before December 16, 2005.

The FTC did call for public comments last spring to aid the Commission in preparing its report. At the time, some urged the Commission to ask for further comments.

In the FTC’s most recent draft notice of rule making, the Commission responded to some of the comments filed earlier about legislative gaps and has also asked some interesting questions.

Given the tenor of the most recent notice, I believe the FTC remains open to further comment to aid it in preparing its section 10 report.

A review of the record shows that the Commission has long believed a legal ban on unsolicited commercial email sent in bulk would do nothing to control volume and that only technical measures will serve this purpose.

I doubt the Commission will change its view, without compelling evidence.

I might suggest the Canadian Task Force report, along with specific measured results from Australia based on their Spam Act of 2003 be used to ground a reasoned report that provides specific evidence as to how a ban on unsolicited commercial email sent in bulk, with enforcement through a civil regulatory regime, using a reverse onus presumption of proof would be an invaluable enforcement tool, while creating a legislative framework that augments and strengthens the technical steps being taken by Internet access services to control online abuse.

At the same time as filing this report with the Commission, I would also present this report to the Senate and House Commerce Committees and then start a letter writing campaign to members of the House and Senate.

At the same time, I would reach out to those segments within the online marketing community who understand an opt-out regime only makes matters worse for permission based marketers and enlist their support in endeavouring to persuade Congress of the merit of revising the law.

Just a thought.

John Glube
Toronto, Canada

John Glube  –  May 24, 2005 5:24 PM

Sorry about that. You can find the Commission notice using this link.

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