MONTREAL - One prominent Internet law expert says Ottawa has backed down on elements of its touted anti-spam regulations after an outcry from business.
More than two years after the bill was passed, the government released another draft of the regulations last Friday.
The goal of the law is to protect Canadians from unsolicited email and text messages, computer viruses and other electronic threats.
But Michael Geist, an Internet law expert at the University of Ottawa, said Industry Canada has been facing pressure from business groups to water down the legislation.
"What we've had is the government passing a law two years ago, coming up with regulations that were fairly consistent with what they said they were trying to achieve, and facing a big backlash from a number of business groups," Geist said in an interview.
The result, he said, is that the government has "opened up some major new exceptions that didn't exist in the law before."
The anti-spam bill was passed in December 2010 but has yet to be enforced.
Geist said the latest draft includes new exemptions for when businesses can send commercial messages.
Those include a broader definition of what consistutes a "personal relationship" — a term that could be used by organizations to send commercial messages without consent — and a greater exception for third-party referrals.
The draft also includes a provision that gives companies a three-year period to conform to the new regulations when it comes to existing agreements with customers.
That means companies will likely have until 2017 to fully comply if the law is put into effect at the end of this year, Geist said.
Industry Canada has given interested parties 30 days to respond with suggestions to the latest draft.
The department said the legislation will protect consumers while allowing businesses to compete.
"This legislation strikes the balance between protecting Canadian consumers and Canadian businesses by permitting legitimate online commercial messages while including vigorous safeguards," spokesman Michel Cimpaye said in an email.
Most advanced countries in the world have had anti-spam legislation on the books for years and Canada has consistently ranked among the top sources of spam emails.
In 2010, when then-industry minister Tony Clement tabled the legislation, he estimated that spam cost Canadians $3 billion a year in lost productivity and money spent on security systems meant to block out fraudulent or unwanted solicitations over computers and wireless devices.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which would help enforce the law, issued a statement in October encouraging businesses to get ready.
“We are committed to protecting Canadians from the harm caused by spam and other electronic threats,” said Andrea Rosen, the CRTC's chief compliance and enforcement officer.
The CRTC said in the fall statement it expects the legislation to come into force in 2013.
Geist said the legislation will, eventually, lead to less clutter in the email inboxes of Canadians and help curb other unwanted electronic communications.
"There are certainly elements that are tougher than other jurisdictions — we've got big penalties here," he said.
"That's of course why companies started to pay attention to it, because there is real liablity attached if you violate the law."