Archived—Task Force on Spam Online Public Consultation Forum

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Summary of Contributions

In just a few years, spam has become a significant social and economic issue, affecting the personal and business productivity of citizens and economies around the globe.

On May 11, 2004, the Government of Canada launched An Anti-Spam Action Plan for Canada to address this issue, and announced the creation of a joint government-private sector task force to combat spam.

As part of its strategy, the Action Plan called for consultation with all Canadians on how best to curtail the current flood of unsolicited commercial email. To this end, the Task Force on Spam created its Online Public Consultation Forum in June 2004.

The Task Force on Spam Online Public Consultation Forum was organized according to the working groups established under the Task Force, including Legislation and Enforcement, Network and Technology Management, Validating Commercial Email, Public Education and Awareness, and International Collaboration. A General Forum category was also created.

There were 171 unique postings to the Forum. In discussing the general topics, Canadians provided their input on the scope of the problem and on potential solutions. Some felt that there is no problem, that spam is simply legitimate use of the Internet for advertising, while others vehemently disagreed. Others used the Forum to debate the merits of current spam research results.

The issue of legislation and enforcement was hotly debated. There were inquiries on the Forum about the current state of anti-spam laws in Canada. Some contributors insisted that new anti-spam legislation was absolutely necessary, and suggested what the components of such a solution might be, while others said that any legislative solution would be ineffective. Other contributors suggested that legislation could be accompanied by technical and other measures to more adequately address the issue. Through the Forum, Canadians also debated the effectiveness of legislation recently enacted in other jurisdictions.

Concerning networks and technology, Canadians used the Forum to talk about emerging threats related to spam, such as botnets; to discuss anti-spam software; and to exchange information on spam-filtering techniques. The Forum was also used to distribute Task Force information, including its "Recommended Best Practices for Internet Service Providers and Other Network Operators."

On the topic of validating commercial email, there was much discussion of authentication and certification schemes — both those under development and those available in the marketplace. One detailed discussion revolved around the merits of the Sender Policy Framework. There was also debate about the potential negative effects of the false positives that can result from filtering or other methods.

The importance of public education and awareness was also discussed, and it was noted that spammers would go out of business if they received no replies. Some Forum participants, however, questioned how effective a public education and awareness campaign could be, since spam requires only a very low response rate to be profitable. Some participants raised the importance of public education and awareness concerning emerging threats, such as botnets and phishing; and some used the Forum to discuss how to reach target audiences, such as small businesses. Still others raised the issue of educating the public about the importance of reporting spam.

The importance of international collaboration in the fight against spam was discussed in light of the fact that most spam originates from outside Canada. The Forum also facilitated an international dialogue, as users from other countries contributed.

The Task Force on Spam Online Public Consultation Forum was an active venue through which Canadians debated issues related to curtailing the flood of unsolicited commercial email, and, ultimately, through which they could make their views known to the Task Force. The Forum must be considered a success, as the contributions to it served as valuable input to the Task Force on Spam's deliberations.