Nova Scotia

New anti-spam legislation is 'a mess' says internet lawyer

Starting July 1st, businesses and some other organizations are going to see big changes with the implementation of federal anti-spam legislation.

Internet, privacy lawyer David Fraser calls legislation 'onerous, complicated and cumbersome'

Canada's tough new anti-spam legislation kicks in on July 1, meaning businesses that send out unwanted emails and even social media messages could face some massive fines. (Shutterstock)

Starting July 1, businesses and some other organizations are going to see big changes with the implementation of federal anti-spam legislation. 

Beginning Canada Day, businesses that send texts, emails, instant messages, Facebook messages, or any other type of electronic commercial message, will have to meet a number of very specific requirements. 

Every electronic message will have to include the full name of the sender, their mailing address, website, phone number and the ability to unsubscribe — which the company must act on within 10 days.

"Just about everyone that communicates with any of their customers and members needs to think about what sort of impact this legislation might have on them," said internet and privacy lawyer David Fraser.

He said the legislation, written 10 years ago, is designed to eliminate nuisance emails. But Fraser calls it "a mess" saying it's "onerous, complicated and cumbersome," and doesn't address the realities of today. 

Legislation too broad

He said many businesses don't think of themselves as being spammers and said the legislation is too broad.

"Last weekend my son and a friend decided to have a lemonade stand and if this had taken place after July 1 and they had emailed around to the neighbours to let them know about this lemonade stand, they would have been regulated under this legislation. They would have been considered to be a spammer even if they had done that on behalf of a charity," said Fraser.

He said he has spoken to business owners who think they're compliant when they're not. He said the legislation puts too much of a burden on businesses and is costing his clients money for legal fees, not to mention teams of employees focused on ensuring businesses are compliant.

Alyssa Buchanan, manager at the Halifax candy shop Sweet Janes, said her day-to-day business hasn't really been affected by the changes.

Fraser said the impact on business is completely disproportionate to the benefits for consumers and lumps fraudulent inheritance scams with discounts from your favourite store.

The rules vary, depending on the type of organization. Charities and non-profits also need to be aware of the potential impact on them.

Hefty fines for those who don't comply

This legislation, designed to reduce emails, is actually causing an increase in them, as companies reach out to their customers, seeking their consent to send them emails after the July 1 deadline. 

Those who don't comply with the legislation risk hefty fines of up to $1 million for individuals and up to $10 million for businesses. 

Fraser said, generally, it will be enforced by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and he gets the sense that "they're very excited at the prospect of strapping on a badge and becoming law enforcement officers.

"I haven't gotten a sense that they're taking a wait and see approach or that they're going to take a particular remedial approach, in terms of helping businesses become compliant if they're found to have messed up. I have a feeling they're going to be pretty aggressive out of the gate, looking for some quick wins and looking for some companies to make examples out of."