Local reaction to new anti-spam law mixed

New anti-spam legislation came in on July 1 but what effect will it really have?

Reaction by Boundary businesses and organizations to the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) that came into effect July 1 has been marked by a combination of fearful anticipation, lack of awareness and confusion.

The legislation, which seeks to control the vast amount of unwanted commercial electronic communication, has far-reaching implications for many businesses, large and small, punishing those who do not comply with its provisions with fines up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for corporations.

When announced, the legislation was welcomed by all those tired of receiving unsolicited electronic trash through email or other data accounts. However, many business owners, organizations and professionals have since become annoyed and alarmed by the legislation, claiming that it missed the mark, hindering their legitimate communication with clients and customers, while failing to restrict in any way the worst spam, most of which originates offshore.

The anti-spam rules apply to any Canadian individual, business or organization that uses electronic means to solicit or promote business or raise funds for any reason. Registered charitable organizations are exempt, but non-profit societies, clubs or teams are not. Just like all businesses, these must have permission from each individual that they contact electronically before soliciting them and must provide a means within the communication for those individuals to opt out of future contact.

The huge fines imbedded in the legislation have made many small businesses and organizations understandably concerned.

Some businesses have been quick to respond. Christina Lake artist Richard Reid wanted to make sure that he was in compliance and so took action before the July 1 deadline. “I sent out requests (for people to confirm that they wanted to remain on my mailing list) before the deadline of July 1 and I have had close to 200 positive responses and one negative response, so I have sort of taken care of it in that sense.

“It does concern a lot of people because it does seem like an onerous task to have to do this and there is also the problem of what happens in the future. How do you deal with sending out anything that can be conceived of as commercial?”

To Reid, the legislation seems to overreach its objective. “Artists are in a unique position in that they are not trying to blanket the world; they’re not selling shoes, you know. Nonetheless the legislation seems to include them. Non-profits are subject to the same thing.”

Local health professionals have also been caught up in the requirements of the legislation. Even an email confirmation of an upcoming appointment falls under the provisions of the act, and all clients must be on record as having confirmed that they wish to be electronically contacted.

The office of one local health service provider confirmed that the initial task of contacting all their clients was time consuming, though there was a positive side. “We have been able to confirm that (email) is the way people prefer to be contacted, so we have had a chance to update our records at the same time.”

Some businesses believe that they will be largely unaffected by the legislation. Chris Hammett, advertising representative for the Gazette, said, “I usually don’t send out unsolicited email. I usually make a phone call first to somebody I don’t know and then I let them know that there will be an email coming.”

A large number of businesses are still unaware of the legislation or do not believe it affects them at all. A local business that books vacation rentals for tourists had not heard of the legislation, and when it was described, commented that though they do send out many emails to potential clients, “If anything people wish that we would send them more emails because it is more like you were here last year would you like to come back this year. And people would be so upset if we didn’t do that. I don’t think we’re too concerned.”

James Wilson, executive director of the Boundary Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t believe any business should be too concerned yet either. After sitting in on a number of webinars put on by the government agencies involved in the administration of the legislation, Wilson said, “We have three years to get it all in order before the legislation actually happens. July 1 was the start of it and now companies are supposed to start complying and collecting the data to make sure that all their email customers, that they have their permission or are getting their permission, which they are working on now. But you have until 2017, July 1, to be fully compliant, before anyone can deal with the ramifications of a fine. So there is this window of time when we can get organized.

“We’re telling businesses to look at third-party businesses (like Mailchimp) to take over all that for them, and then they’re liable, and it won’t be the small business any more.”

Yet since 2012 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been telling businesses and organizations that the July 1, 2014 deadline is the date when complaints will be received and the new laws and accompanying penalties will be enforced. When the Gazette tried to speak with someone with the CRTC to clear up the confusion about when compliance would be required, the only response was an email tersely referring to the CRTC website, which stated that July 1, 2014 was the date by which all had to be in compliance with the legislation.

Since that date, the CRTC has received about 2,000 complaints a day about Canadian businesses that are still sending out unsolicited electronic communications.

Hammett confirmed that there seems to have been little accomplished so far by the new rules. “I am still getting a lot (of spam), and I’m thinking, ‘How come this is still coming through?’”

If concerned about their compliance with the law, Boundary businesses and non-profit organizations can view the CRTC website  HYPERLINK “http://crtc.gc.ca/eng/com500/faq500.htm” (crtc.gc.ca/eng/com500/faq500.htm) to help them understand and be in compliance with the new legislation.

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