Big Brother is watching out for you

Will anti-spam legislation and regulations protect you?

If you're concerned about spam, there are things to watch for.
If you’re concerned about spam, there are things to watch for.
Dorothy Dobbie Issues in the News
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the News

RBC Bank calls me every day. They want to sell me insurance. I don’t want insurance and I have told them so. I have also told them to take my name off their telephone list. They simply ignore this request. The call centre is probably in some other country. So much for the National Do Not Call List Rules that were supposed to keep us from being harassed by telemarketers.

Now Canada is about to introduce new anti-spam regulations and one of the enforcers will be the CRTC which created the National Do Not Call List Rules. The others will be the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Competition Bureau. You will be able to report spam to the SRC, the Spam Reporting Centre after July 1, 2014.

Sound good? Think again. There are no physical barriers to spam which will continue to flow into your computer from every corner of the world, except this one. And while it may prevent Canadian spammers from operating in this country, it will do nothing to stop them from operating across the border. What it does do is put some crushing limits on Canadian businesses that rely on person-to-person contact in the pursuit of new clients.

BILL C-28 was passed in December of 2010, following a 2008 promise by Steven Harper to ferret out spam. According to the government website, “The intent of the legislation is to deter the most damaging and deceptive forms of spam, such as identity theft, phishing and spyware, from occurring in Canada and to help to drive out spammers.”

The legislation appears reasonable, if misguided, for the reasons already cited. However, the regulations that accompany the bill are quite another thing. Like the privacy laws, they place a burden on business-to-business relationships that require expensive tracking of how contacts are made and consents obtained. In the event of a complaint, you must be able to prove either a relationship (including familial) or that you have the consent of the recipient of an email. It will be interesting to see how this will be enforced.

From the point of view of the consumer, the most valuable activity is that related to educating people about how to detect spam. Here is the good advice (although incomplete) that the government publishes.

Worried it’s spam? Five things to look for:

  1. Asks For Sensitive Information. (Personal or financial) Even banks don’t ask for this stuff! Legitimate banks and companies will never ask for personal or financial information in an electronic message.
  2. Impersonation of Companies or People You Know.
  3. Many criminals try to fake the appearance of well-known companies or people that you deal with frequently. Look for the warning signs on this list, even from senders you think you recognize.
  4. Uses Scare Tactics. (For example: Will delete your account if you do not respond).
  5. Asks For Money in Advance.
  6. Seems Too Good to Be True. You have won a trip! Beware of unexpected prizes or offer of money. Never send money or give personal information to claim a prize.

There is more good advice at http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/h_00095.html#s1.

To my mind, the public would have been much better served by a widespread campaign of these messages, which are currently only available if you know where to look on the Internet, than from the expenditure of the millions that must have gone into the preparation, hearings, modifications and final drafting of the regulations, not to mention the ongoing cost of policing these regulations once they are fully enacted.

Meanwhile, the law comes into effect next July, but there is a three-year phase-in provision. No doubt lawyers are rubbing their hands in glee as they set up divisions to interpret the regulations and to advise big business on how to protect themselves. For small business, many will try to comply, find it too burdensome, and carry on much the same as they always have – just as they now deal with the privacy laws, risking prosecution if someone complains.

And the spam will continue to crowd your inbox from offshore, just as my phone continues to ring with messages from persistent telemarketers.

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