Why do we need an opt-in spam law?

As you saw in my previous blog post, I've come out in support of opt-in being the legally mandated permission standard in Canada. I don't think it's all that big of a deal; as I said before, opt-in is already a best practice. In response to that, one of my Twitter followers asked, what's the point? "Why, if opt-in is best practice in Canada does the government have to get involved?"  

Since the 50,000 member-strong Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) has come out strongly in support of the proposed legislation (if done in an opt-in form), I decided to turn to CAUCE's Executive Director, Neil Schawrtzman, to give him a chance to respond. Take it away, Neil!

Al Iverson mentioned to me that someone took him to task on Twitter for his support of Opt-in, as it relates to the Canadian Electronic Commerce Protection Bill C-27 currently making its way through the legislative process here in my home and native land.

The task-master asked "If it's already best practice, why does the government get involved?"

Fair enough question.

I assume you mean why are we trying to codify (again) opt-in in law, and aren't questioning why we need a spam law. If the latter, I suggest you check your inbox, or your junk folder. The founder of the Canadian Pharmacy spam gang is a Montrealer.

So, onto the question I presume you are asking.

First off, opt-in already is the law here in Canada that you must have permission from a recipient to send them email. PIPEDA, our privacy law, has been in place for many years now. I have won judgments under it.

Laws strive to define what is under their jurisdiction and what isn't. The current best practice for email, indeed, the only logical one if a sender cares about complaints rates and IP & domain reputation, is opt-in. No 'ifs ands nor buts' about it, obtaining permission from the recipient in advance is fundamental if you want your email sends to get delivered to the inbox.

(I have written elsewhere that I'm not all that sold on Confirmed Opt-in, but opt-in still gets my vote, every time as an professional arbitrar of senders, and as a recipient of email. )

Bill C-27, indeed any anti-spam law has to take a stance on an integral part of email, the relationship between sender and recipient.

CAN-SPAM, for example, in the United States has taken the opposite of Opt-in, namely, Opt-out, wherein the recipient has to tell senders to stop sending them mail, and the results have been disastrous. Spammers register hundreds of domains, and cycle through them. Recipients must unsubscribe from each new false front mailed to them by abusive senders

Bill C-27 is reflecting not only best common practices, but an effective framing of the sender-recipient relationship as has been done in Australia and New Zealand, to great positive effect. It will become incumbent upon senders to maintain proper records of sign-ups for those instances when they are challenged with allegations of spam being sent. But that too is a best common practice anyway.

Bottom line: Bill C-27 must define the relationship, choose between opt-in or opt-out. and is happily reflecting the best possible version of reality by opting for opt-in, thus making it much more likely to be effective legislation towards its stated ends.

If you hate garbage ending up in your inbox, please consider signing our petition in support of bill C-27 and if you are Canadian, pick up the phone and call your member of Parliament. They can be found by entering your Postal Code here.

Neil Schwartzman

Executive Director
CAUCE: The Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email
(P.S.: Al has graciously allowed me to add a little bit of a plug CAUCE. Check out our website at cauce.org where you can sign up for our newsletter and we have presence on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter.)
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