As part of a wider effort to crack down on senders of fraudulent e-mail, the federal government Tuesday announced the creation of a new spam task force.
Among other initiatives, the task force of public- and private-sector representatives
will review the use of existing anti-fraud laws as well as any “regulatory and legislative gaps” that might inhibit law enforcement agencies from bringing spammers to justice.
The task force’s overall goal is to identify measures to reduce or control spam.
“The government must ensure that existing legislation” addresses the spam problem, Industry Minister Lucienne Robillard told an Ottawa audience.
Currently, anti-fraud provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada, the Personal Information Protection and Electronics Act (PIPEDA) and the Competition Act could be used to fight spammers, she added.
The question is whether these laws are being applied by law enforcement agencies as much as they could be, said Bernard Courtois, president of the Information Technology Association of Canada and a member of the new task force.
Canada has yet to see a test case where a spammer is charged and brought before a court, he said.
“At the moment … we have laws, so let’s try and apply them first before we conclude that we need to change or add to them. As it turns out that in trying to enforce them we find gaps, then by all means lets do so.”
Courtois thinks it would be useful to put a chill on the most fraudulent spammers by prosecuting them. Co-members of the task force agree.
“We’ll be pushing very hard on the enforcement of existing laws,” said Suzzanne Morin, assistant general counsel for Bell Canada. But in order to do that, there needs to be cooperation between police and Internet service providers, she added.
Accordingly, the task force plans to meet in June with law enforcement agencies to share views and talk about what needs to happen in order “to prosecute or pursue individuals”.
“If we can have a couple of lawsuits or prosecutions under each one of these pieces of legislation, that will go a long way in telling spammers ‘We’re not going to make it easier for you in Canada’.”
ISPs and police should collaborate in gathering intelligence on spammers that can lead to arrests, she added.
But one of the biggest challenges will be finding the right combination of resources and will, said Courtois.
“Law enforcement agencies must decide whether it’s worth putting their time and trouble into (tracking down spammers). As the problem grows and continues to have an impact on the population, they’re going to have to do that.”
More money to fight spammers won’t solve the problem exclusively, he added, especially since there are other areas of law enforcement that demand greater attention.
“There’s no doubt that our agencies involved in national security have a lot of resources but huge demands from terrorism. So if you gave them more money, would they really use it to go after spammers?”
When it comes to priorities, the situation is the same for Canadian privacy commissioners, he said. Until now, the federal commissioner and his provincial counterparts have not had large volumes of spam-related complaints, he said.
“I don’t think they’re equipped at the moment to go after the spam problem. But once people realize that spam is a breach of (PIPEDA), then people will go to them.”
An e-mail address is personal information, added Morin, so there needs to be a test case where a privacy commissioner or an individual seeks recourse under the law. “This needs to happen before we identify any gaps (in the law).”
Courtois said the task force will have accomplished its goal when users feel comfortable using e-mail again, and begin to regard it once more as “a sound and valuable tool”.
“We’ll have failed if the spam problem continues to eat away at (people) and they lose confidence in using e-mail altogether.”
The task force is expected to present its findings to the minister by the spring of 2005.