JASON FEKETE, Postmedia News reports:
Tired of email promises that a fortune awaits you in an offshore account? What about cellphone calls that you've won a luxurious vacation but must act immediately? Damn that spam.
Help, however, is on the way. The federal government is preparing to launch a spam reporting centre (SRC) that will crack down on the illegal and annoying calls, texts and email messages that flood Canadians' cellphones, inboxes and social network accounts such as Facebook and Twitter.
Private-sector bids closed this week on helping the government to establish and to operate a facility that observers say is desperately needed to meet international standards and eliminate Canada's reputation as a spammer haven.
Industry Canada is developing a division that will be responsible for identifying and analyzing trends in spam and related threats to electronic commerce.
The government, which has allocated $700,000 annually to operate the facility, believes spam is an increasing threat to the Canadian economy because it can undermine consumer confidence in the online marketplace and erode productivity.
Dubbed "The Freezer," the new centre will accept unsolicited electronic messages forwarded by individuals, businesses and organizations in Canada, including spam, malware (malicious software), spyware, short message services (SMS), and false and misleading representations involving the use of any means of telecommunications, according to Industry Canada.
Every day, tens of millions of spam emails are sent to digital addresses in Canada, although Internet Service Providers catch a large majority of them with filters.
The Freezer is to field reports and complaints of spam and related electronic threats and collect information that's either voluntarily provided or publicly available. The information could then be used as evidence of potential violations and assist enforcement agencies in levying fines or other penalties.
It's unbelievable that here we are, 2012, and Canada still ostensibly allows this activity to go on with no repercussions," said Neil Schwartzman, a consultant and member of a federal task force in 2005 that made recommendations on how to curb spamming in Canada. "There are spam gangs in Canada. There are absolutely spammers here."
The federal Conservative government passed antispam legislation in 2010 that's designed to combat threats to the online economy, but it hasn't yet come into force. The bill, which proposed to establish penalties in the millions of dollars and would pave the way for the reporting facility, likely will take effect when The Freezer is operational. There's no immediate timeline for when the centre will be up and running.
Three agencies are responsible for using the information collected by the spam reporting centre and enforcing the penalties: the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the Competition Bureau and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
The CRTC will be responsible for investigating the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages and installation of software without consent, while the Competition Bureau will address "false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices in the electronic marketplace."
The privacy commissioner will focus on the collection of personal information through illicit access to people's computer systems and "electronic address harvesting" that sees bulk email lists compiled by computer programs.
Tom Copeland, chairman of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers and member of the spam task force, said the government and private sector alike are worried about consumers being spooked by spam.
"One of our concerns was the way (spam) would lessen people's confidence in e-commerce and if something wasn't done about it people would just say 'I'm not going to buy online, I'm not going to do my banking online,'" Copeland said.
An owner of a small Internet Service Provider in Ontario, Copeland said as much as 96 per cent of email traffic some days - millions of messages daily - that goes through his ISP is spam, with most of it snared by filters.
"They (customers) get paranoid. They go beyond being cautious to the point that they basically go into e-commerce hibernation and they will not use the Internet for anything beyond surfing and a little email with the grandkids," he added.
The government's antispam law eventually will enable the CRTC to impose penalties of up to $1 million per violation for individuals, and $10 million for businesses. The Competition Bureau also can seek penalties under the Competition Act, which allows for penalties up to $750,000 for individuals and $10 million for businesses, with $1 million and $15 million per subsequent violation, respectively...