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Anti-spam measures still on track, Ottawa says

An anti-spam crusader fears Industry Minister Maxime Bernier is ignoring the spiralling threat of unsolicited e-mail, but a government official says substantial progress is being made.

Technology consultant Neil Schwartzman, a member of Industry Canada's spam task force, said he's worried about Bernier's silence on the issue since being appointed minister in February.

"Nothing has moved forward," Schwartzman said in an interview. "He has ignored the [task force]report."

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Members of the task force will step up efforts to pressure Bernier to deal with the spam dilemma in the fall session of Parliament, Schwartzman said.

The task force was created in 2004 to address the growing problem of unwanted junk e-mail. In May 2005, the task force's recommendations were endorsed by then Industry minister David Emerson.

Industry Canada's director general of e-commerce said the department needs time to take the task force's technical recommendations and transform them into legislation.

There's no definite timetable for an anti-spam bill to be brought before the Commons, Richard Simpson said. "It depends on the government's legislative agenda."

But some of the task force's recommendations have resulted in significant progress, Simpson said.

Over the past year, for example, Canada's Internet service providers have implemented some recommendations and have put a lid on the amount of spam emerging from Canadian-based computers.

Canada was once one of the world's top 10 spam producers, but recent efforts by Internet providers have dropped Canada to 16th.

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"That's a list you want to drop in," Simpson said.

Still, spam from other countries has begun to explode on Canadian computer screens as a new techniques are used to dupe people out of money.

While most spam messages contain offers of cheap aphrodisiacs or hot company stocks, some spammers have started to go "phishing."

The technique involves making e-mail look like legitimate messages from a customer's bank. Usually, the message requires the users to turn over confidential account numbers.

Schwartzman, chairman of the national arm of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail, said some spammers are also using on-line viruses, activated when a spam e-mail is opened.

These viruses, called bot-nets, are able to give a spammer access to someone's home computer.

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Other bot-nets, Schwartzman said, have been used to control the emergency room doors in hospitals or local 911 networks. These threats, he said, could easily be used by terrorists.

"Terrorist organizations will eventually use them to carry out a real-world attack," he said. "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when."

Canada needs to follow the example of New Zealand, Japan and Australia and implement a tough anti-spam law, he said.

Not only is foreign-based spam clogging up Canadian Internet networks, it's also hitting Canadians in the wallet.

Some estimates suggest that Internet users are paying their Internet providers an extra $60 a year because of the added security measures needed to combat spam, Schwartzman said.

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