Can politicians send you unsolicited text messages? Here are the rules in Canada
Andrew Scheer has your phone number and that caught some Canadians off-guard.
The Opposition leader is part of a growing list of politicians who are trying to contact you in a new way: via text message.
Over the last week, Scheer contacted some Canadians about the carbon tax, which went into effect on Monday in four provinces.
“Andrew Scheer here,” the message reads. “Trudeau’s carbon tax will raise gas prices on Monday. So fill your tank!”
It also contained a link to “help get rid of the carbon tax.”
Before Scheer, a Conservative named Lisa, (presumably MP Lisa Raitt, though a request for comment to her office went unanswered) asked over text if she could count on some people’s support in the next federal election.
Scheer and the Conservatives are expecting a federal election in the fall. A representative for the Tories said the new method of texting Canadians is “about using 21st-century technology to do voter outreach.”
The NDP and United Conservative Party in Alberta have both sent out similar messages before the writ dropped on a provincial election.
Tory spokesperson Cory Hann told Global News that it’s the first time the party has used texting “to this level.”
So what are the rules around this? Here’s some information about using texting for political purposes.
How did they get your number?
First off, you might want to know how the politicians got your number.
“It’s a combination of numbers that people have voluntarily given us and, like other political parties elsewhere in the country have used, we’re making use of a program that generates mobile numbers,” Hann said.
The Alberta NDP said they also use a program to generate random numbers.
A spokesperson from the NDP said a volunteer replies to those who interact with the initial, computer-generated message.
Both parties compared the practice of texting random numbers to randomly knocking on doors.
“Just as we would over the years knock on someone’s door to deliver a message, we’re also informing them via communications mediums they regularly use like text messaging, and social media,” Hann said.
Is it legally spam?
According to the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, CASL, a commercial electronic message is anything that offers to buy or sell goods or services, gaming or investment opportunities, or advertising or promoting a person or a good or service.
But non-commercial messages, such as ones from politicians, would not be covered by CASL, officials from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) explained.
Whether or not you consider it spam is up to the person receiving it, Fenwick McKelvey, associate professor of communications at Concordia University, said.
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“If these emails or text messages bother you, don’t hesitate to let the sender know and ask to be removed from their distribution list,” a spokesperson from the CRTC said.
McKelvey said usually Canadians “don’t like to be enrolled in political messaging without consent,” and said if a continuing message was bothering someone, they could make a complaint with Elections Canada.
“This is another reminder that parties are exempt from all major privacy and data laws in Canada,” McKelvey said.
But I’m on the Do Not Call list — does that apply?
The Do Not Call List applies to phone calls, not texting, McKelvey explained.
He also said that political parties are exempt from the Do Not Call List.
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Automatic dialing rules, a.k.a. Robo-calling
All parties so far said they were generating numbers using a computer program. While the automatic-dialling rules don’t specifically mention texting, there are restrictions for robo-calling — and these do apply to political parties.
These rules state the person calling must clearly identify themselves, must not hide the phone number, along with other regulations.
Possibility for fraud
As with many things online or electronic — there is the possibility that scammers could generate a similar message in an attempt to scam the receiver.
“The risk is that this normalizes spam texts, diminishing the public’s capacity to detect phishing attacks. [It’s] a big deal because texting bad links is a common threat vector for malware,” McKelvey explained.
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