Banning Spam… Et Al.?

The Conservative Party of Canada has announced as part of the current federal election campaign that if re-elected, it will bring forward legislation to ban spam.

The Canadian Press story mentions this (and a number of other consumer-oriented promises).

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Virginia, in Jaynes v Virginia [PDF], struck down that state’s anti-spam legislation as unconstitutional, because it was ‘over-broad’. Its rules prohibiting misuse or misrepresentation of IP addresses applied not only to commercial but to all messages, including political or religious ones. This was an impermissible infringement on free speech, said the court. As a result, the commercial spammer was acquitted who had been convicted at trial and whose conviction had been upheld at the first level of appeal.

Steptoe and Johnson, the DC law firm, said “the court essentially held that people have a constitutional right to falsify an IP address or domain name, since that is effectively ‘the only way’ to send anonymous email.” (E-Commerce Week # 535, September 20, 2008)

Should the Canadian anti-spam law restrict itself to commercial messages? Would it be appropriate to put on spam the same subject-matter limits that are on telemarketing under the CRTC’s Do-Not-Call rules?

Is there a right to anonymous speech in Canadian law, even for sensitive issues like politics and religion? The Canadian Journal of Law and Technology had an article on the Charter’s freedom of expression and anonymity a few years back by Peter C Keen. And of course Ian Kerr and his colleagues have a mega-project running at U of Ottawa that raises these questions: (formerly See — nothing posted on the anonymity thread since spring 2007 — perhaps it’s all been said.


  1. I hope anti-spam legislation finally comes to pass!

    Interesting that this should be a campaign promise when the Senate has put forward anti-spam legislation four times.

    I draw your attention to the ever-lovely LEGISINFO site where if you search the word spam you will see all of the follwing bills that have dies on the order paper:

    Search Results for SPAM
    39th Parliament – 2nd Session (Oct. 16, 2007 – Sept. 7, 2008)
    S-235 An Act concerning unsolicited commercial electronic messages
    (Anti-Spam Act)

    38th Parliament – 1st Session (Oct. 4, 2004 – Nov. 29, 2005)
    S-15 An Act to prevent unsolicited messages on the Internet
    (Spam Control Act)

    37th Parliament – 3rd Session (Feb. 2, 2004 – May 23, 2004)
    S-2 An Act to prevent unsolicited messages on the Internet
    (Spam Control Act)

    37th Parliament – 2nd Session (Sept. 30, 2002 – Nov. 12, 2003)
    S-23 An Act to prevent unsolicited messages on the Internet
    (Spam Control Act)

    Most nteresting is that Senator Oliver (A Conservative) introduced this legislation three times when there was a Liberal government in the house, then when there was a Conservative government in the house, anti-spam legislation was introduced by Senator Goldstein, a Liberal.

    I am personally not as concerned with the language of the bill, but rather the ridiculously slow pace of legislation to meet the current needs of the people.

  2. But those private Senators’ bills were pretty namby-pamby and symbolic things. They didn’t reflect the recommendations of the Anti-Spam Task Force, so far as I know – the most credible Canadian analysis of our problem. It is unlikely that the bills were worth passing. Introducing the same bill several times does not make its merits increase.

    The language of the bill does make some difference as to whether it should be passed or not, surely.