MASSE IN THE HOUSE: Speaking on Bill C-27, the Anti-Spam Bill

House of Commons Debates – Bill C-27
November 30, 2009

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-27, and I will read the precursor to the bill so that the public knows what we are talking about.
This is known as the anti-spam bill, but in particular, it is 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.
This is about limiting electronic messaging that is unsolicited and unwanted which is coming across the Internet to many people in their homes and businesses. It is affecting the economy and the productivity of Canada, and in my opinion, is also a breach of consumer rights in many respects.
This is the reference in terms of the informal notation of spam. We all have received it in our mailboxes, whether it is an account at work or at home where we have received unsolicited electronic messaging.
I am pleased that the government brought Bill C-27 forward. It had interesting dynamics on the political front because during this process, it appeared the government was going to cave to a number of different initiatives from the Bloc and the Liberals to weaken the bill, but that was prevented at committee. We do have, I believe, all party support right now to bring a piece of legislation in line, which I think we can all be proud of, that is actually going to benefit consumers and the Canadian economy.
I would like to note that I am a bit worried about where the government is going with this legislation in terms of prioritization. We made an effort in the committee to work through this really quickly. I gave my personal word as well to move through this really quickly. We did get that done at committee and we did make sure that we preserved very much the fundamentals of the bill. There was some weakening of it, which I did not agree with, but at least it still meets the test at the end of the day.
It then took literally weeks before it appeared back here in the House of Commons and is finally coming back here again. It needs to be voted on again here in the House of Commons before it can move to the other place, the Senate, and unfortunately, there have been some other bills that have been stalling in the Senate. I do not know the politics between the Liberal and the Conservative Parties with regard to some of the legislation, but one of them I would note is Bill C-6, which is critical. This relates once again to consumer product safety for recall.
I would point out more recent examples. There was the one with the baby cribs, but there was also the one with regard to Toyota products, where four million Americans received a recall notice related to brake and acceleration issues caused by the floor mats, and meanwhile, the 200,000 Canadians who had the same problem over here only got a public announcement on a website posting, at their expense really.
I do not know why. I have written to Toyota and asked why they have not done this for Canadians. It is ridiculous. Our public safety and a number of things are at risk, but that is an example of a bill that is stalled and we do not know where it is going to go.
The bill enjoys strong public support and it has the support of the New Democratic Party. This is part of our electoral platform in moving a number of consumer issues forward that we really want to see implemented as law. The other place will have to do some work on this bill and there will be some lobby efforts on this bill. That happened at our committee. I could be wrong but if I am not mistaken, some members of the other parties were accepting questions literally from the lobbyists in the meetings.
There will be a push to try to weaken this bill and there are some elements in this bill that make it really strong and that make it a good bill for Canadians and Canadian businesses, because it affects our economy.
When we take a look at the issue of spam and electronic messaging, one of the things that we need to recognize as a country is that Canada is actually in the top 10 and one of the few countries in the G8 that do not have this type of legislation. We are behind. We can catch up with this bill quite significantly and have one of the better models to deal with the issue.
Approximately five per cent of the spam in the world comes from Canada. We are actually known as a harbour of some of the actual big spammers that are out there. I think we stand fourth in the world in terms of spamming, behind Russia and just ahead of Brazil.
We heard this before and it was important that we change it in terms of some of our workings with the United States.
In the past, movies playing in Canadian theatres could be taped and that was technically not illegal. We were able to solve that problem over a year ago, giving credit to the way the Canadian market worked in terms of being fair to consumers and the industry. I see the same with this bill.
The model that is being proposed in this bill is a bit different than the United States. The United States passed a law in 2003 called the controlling the assault of non-solicited pornography and marketplace act. The U.S. calls this bill the can the spam bill because there is an opt out clause. An individual has to opt out from receiving information.
Canada would have a much more proficient system with this bill. If an individual does not have an existing business relationship or does not have permission, then he or she should not be sending unsolicited emails. This would be a better system because it would clean things up more profoundly.
Some good things have taken place with regard to the United States system. There have been some charges related to it, and there has been a reduction in spam. But nothing will solve this problem outright. There is no doubt that no matter what law we put in place, there are going to be some challenges. There will be those who will always break the law. It does not matter what law we actually set in this chamber because there are always those who will take advantage of other people despite their economic and personal issues.
Electronic commerce activity is increasingly important in a competitive world. It is also important for us to be able to meet our needs on the telecommunications run as we learn about the world and use the Internet. Harboured down with approximately 87% of activity being electronic messaging undermines the Internet.
It is important to note that some good electronic commerce does take place. Businesses can effectively use it for advertising their services. Consumers want to use electronic commerce and that will continue, but there will be some regulation under this bill. This bill would take away some of the most offensive and egregious issues. Individuals would be penalized. Private action could take place as well, which is another strong point of the bill. I will get into this later in my speech.
As I mentioned, spam represents about 87% of email activity around the world. It was estimated last year that 62 trillion spam emails were sent out and it is done in a variety of ways. This bill would identify some of those ways and eliminate them. I will get into a few of those as well.
An Ipsos Reid poll found that approximately 130 spam messages are received by Canadians each week, and that is troubling because that is up 51% from the year before.
It is not just the irritation of removing unwanted messages and solicitations, but it is also time-consuming. Employers are worried about the time this takes and the cost.
I do want to make a point which we in the NDP have been really strong on in terms of consumer rights. It is not a right to send these messages, but it is actually a privilege. Think about it.
When an individual purchases a computer or other electronic equipment that receives messages, that individual pays for that out of their own pocket. The individual has to pay to maintain that equipment as well as paying for continual upgrades to software and so forth to make sure it is working efficiently. The Internet service, the actual conductor of the information, has to be paid. Those who are sending spam need to understand that.
It should not just be an absolute right that we get inundated by activity, especially when we have some in the marketplace who are using malware and other types of spy software to try to gain more information about us, where we have been surfing on the Internet, what our habits might be as consumers on the Internet . That also undermines the ability for us to have confidence in it as a vehicle for doing commerce and legitimate business. It is important that those people who behave in that activity would be punished for offences in this new act.
Now, this bill is going to create laws based on the federal trade and commerce power. That is important, because it will provide an opt-in approach. So, there will be existing business relationships that we have and there is a timeframe for the sign-up.
Now, interestingly, one of the things that the bill does provide for is windows of opportunity for businesses with current existing relationships to make that connection with their customer, and one of them is for 18 months in terms of a previous existing business relationship. Now that was extended by the Bloc. It moved a motion to extend it to 24 months. That is something that I opposed. Once again, I believe that 18 months is plenty of time for someone to get information from us. It is a long time period, being over a year and a half, but now it is two years, and I think that is unfortunate.
However, once we have this law in place, there will be a process for those to be punished who are actually doing it. The way it is going to have to be done is through, basically, three regulatory agencies.
The first is the CRTC. It is going to be involved in terms of investigating complaints.
Then we have the Competition Bureau. The Competition Bureau is going to be responsible for the administrative monetary penalties, if there is an actual breach that has been confirmed by the CRTC. The fines can be up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million in all other cases. So there is going to be a recourse to show to those spamming powers out there or those who are doing it that there will be punishments, that it will be more than just a fine, that it is going to be significant for them to deal with and, hopefully, it will curb that behaviour.
There is also the Privacy Commissioner that is going to be involved because sometimes our privacy rights are affected by spam. There have been a number of cases where spammers have basically used headliners that look like many banks' headliners and then, for example, people click, thinking it is their own bank, but it turns out it is a spammer collecting data and information from them. Sometimes that can be quite perilous. There have been cases where people have lost money thinking it was their own financial institution or a legitimate financial institution and they had provided access to some of their monetary resources. Unfortunately, that is why the Privacy Commissioner needs to be involved because it also will protect our personal privacy, and a lot of people are concerned about that.
I think one of the reasons that the bill will be strong is it would have those three regulatory agencies actively involved in maintaining the accountability of the actual bill.
Now, interestingly enough, there was a bit of a debate about whether or not this bill should deal with the telephone solicitation issues. It would not. However, at the same time it would allow the minister actually some degree of ability, capability, quite frankly, a bit more strength to work on the do-not-call list. I hope the minister takes this up to fix some of the do-not-call list problems. One of the ones that is in there that this bill would prohibit is the issue over survey. It is interesting. The government almost capitulated on this. I would like to thank those in the industry, Michael Geist and a number of other different individuals, who pointed out this giant loophole that we could drive a truck through; whereas if someone proposed or sent a survey to somebody it did not count as solicitation or spam and, hence, it would have actually avoided the whole regime. The government, at one point, looked like it had actually tabled an amendment on this--it was in our book right here--and it ended up not actually tabling it; it backed down from that amendment.
Ironically, then the Liberal Party picked it up and actually tried to move it, but was defeated when the Chair actually overruled that. We were lucky that we did not have that. It is one that I hope will be cleaned up with the do-not-call list; that is, the survey loophole that everybody knows about and that is actually hindering the capability of the bill. We did not actually have a section on that, so that gives the minister some flexibility to fix it, and I hope that he takes me up on that suggestion.
It is also important to note that there was another issue in the bill that was defeated. It is important to recognize that because it is an issue that people are concerned about. In the original manifestations of the bill was a provision that would have allowed companies to go onto our computers and seek information that that computer site. If we had agreed to them being part of our Internet relationship, we would be consenting or allowing them to go onto our computer and access information and documents and basically surf through our site unknown to us.
That issue was taken off the table as well. There was great Internet discussion and blogging about this offensive piece of the legislation. I was happy to see that back out as well. It is important because had that provision been there as well as the other provisions I have mentioned were taken out, I do not know whether I could have supported this legislation because it would have weakened it so much. It would have become far weaker than even the do not call registry. It is very fortunate that we were able to get consensus and push that back.
As well, there were a couple of amendments that were interesting and I was rather curious as to how they came forward. We will see whether or not in the Senate they will be pushed forward again. One of them came from the Bloc and that was the extension of the time to actually opt out of an email subscription. But the way it works is if I, for example, agree to receive an email and I have a relationship with a company or if someone is sending me that information, then I can opt out of that later on, just send an email that I do not want to continue this relationship. The way the legislation was that in 10 days I would be taken off the list. The Bloc moved a motion for it to be 30 days. The final part of the bill is 10 business days.
If we agree to an email through our bank or somewhere else, they will instantly start spamming or sending information. Once we agree, they start flying in. I have Aeroplan points, for example, from Air Canada and boy, that thing rings all the time with all kinds of stuff. I have agreed to that relationship and sometimes it is helpful, sometimes it is irritating, but I make that choice. To suggest that I want out that and it would take 30 days to get out of that is absolute nonsense, especially with the sophistication of some of the programs, 10 business days is a sufficient time to end that relationship. It is not burdensome at all especially when they have the capability of adding us in instantaneously when we agree to get on these lists.
I was puzzled about this and when it gets to the Senate we will see whether or not there is going to be another lobby effort either to kill the bill or to weaken it some more. If it weakens it more Canadians will be upset because they are seeking a solution to this. As well it is important to reinforce the issues of how serious spam is. Spam is used in crime. Spam is also used in an organized way that affects the whole Internet capacity of the system. We just have to look at some of the botnets. This is like a zombie computer where specific programs are written to go in and then turn our computers into a generator for spam or our email address for someone else who controls a whole grid of them.
I am going to wrap up with the support for the bill. We want to see this happen as soon as possible. I am glad it has finally come to this chamber. I was disappointed it took so long because we worked really hard at committee to get it here quicker and I am concerned it will have some impact in the Senate. We will see whether the senators are going to stand hard on the bill and make it happen quickly for Canadians and make sure we will get some real results.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, one of the interesting results of the American legislation that was passed was the conviction of Robert Alan Soloway, who was arrested in the United States. He was one of the world's largest spammers.
The member is quite right when he refers to the issue and its connection to crime. It was not only identity theft and fraud but money laundering was also part of the 35 criminal counts he was charged with. I am not exactly sure where it is. I think it was in 2007 that he was arrested and some of the cases may be going through the courts. Those were the types of things he was charged with.
That is important because it is not only about privacy but whether people's money can be taken, government information and a great deal of personal information that can be used for other types of activity that can be stolen. The issue is related to money laundering. That can make it very harmful to citizens but also companies.
I want to touch on companies, too, because some of the market they invest in gets lost or hurt because of spamming. Some of the spamming is very particular, very clean in imaging and induces people to think it is something it is not, such as, for example, the banking industry. It costs that industry because it loses customers. People then do not want to trust that company because others have abused it. That is why we do not want to lose sight of the criminal aspect of this as well.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, this issue really needs to be taken seriously. This is a privilege, not a right, especially given that businesses and people have invested in their own computers. They are the ones paying for the maintenance, as I noted. They are also paying for the Internet service being provided.
It is very much a privilege, not a right, to interchange in such a relationship. Otherwise, what should happen is that maybe consumers should get 5¢ for every ad or some type of remuneration for doing it. That really should be what is happening if this type of behaviour is seen as a right, not a privilege.
I would argue there are some really good models, as the member has noted. Organizations are trying to create some best practices so that they can keep their areas lined up correctly. With the three government agencies, the CRTC, the Competition Bureau and the Privacy Commissioner, there will be a really good, strong regime to set some good examples right away than those that are terribly abusive. That will hopefully bring in line those who are kind of on the fringes of doing this activity.
Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, there is a couple of good example in the past, but when I think about what will happen right now, if we are lucky, the bill will go to the Senate and be passed some time in 2010. I am hopeful there will be no election and the bill becomes law.
I was watching a video today about some of the crime bills that were lost when the Prime Minister called the election, despite elections being set for ourselves in the future. We hope we will not see that happen again.
Businesses will have an additional two years before it comes into full implementation, when they will have that existing business relationship that can be struck with their current client base.
I am hoping the government does roll out a program right away at the beginning so that we can get to those businesses, not wait till the last minute and then have those types of problems.
There will be flexibility with the CRTC and the Competition Bureau to be able to determine if there was an accidental breach or whether these are habitual problems that are happening in particular companies. There are all kinds of wonderful ways that we can connect electronically, with the Government of Canada's own infrastructure system, and as well, even connecting into, for example, the chambers of commerce across this country.
There will be a lot of opportunity to engage the public and, I would argue, having a two year period before full implementation, so we are really not looking at it immediately. It depends when it gets through the Senate. It might be 2012 or 2013 before the law would be fully implemented and protecting consumers and the Canadian economy, and that is a long time.
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): I think it will, Mr. Speaker, but the member raises a really good point with regard to the class action. That is one of the things on which we could probably have spent more time to see whether that could have evolved into part of the final structure of the bill.
We did not have much discussion on that at all, but it might be one of those things that we could look to adding to the bill. I am hopeful, maybe that would be a strengthening of the bill and that it could happen at the Senate. If not, I am hopeful that the bill stays in its current format, at least as a starting point, and then from there we could look at massaging the bill if it is not meeting the needs.
Once again, this is critical. This is not just about inconveniences and annoyances. This is a massive use of technology and the abuse that is taking place with customers. It affects the Canadian economy and it is also giving Canada a black eye right now.