Do I have your permission?

What's a newspaper to do, when new anti-spam laws mean you need permission to send an email before you send it?

Next time your phone rings, it might be me.

“Hello, this is Barry Coulter from the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. New legislation has required us to have your permission to send you an email before we send it. It is conceivable that we may want to send you an email, seeking to interview you for a story. Do we have your consent to send that email?”

“I’m sorry, what’s this about?” you may ask.

(What is it about indeed! Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL) comes into force on July 1, 2014, and introduces new rules around the use of “commercial electronic messages,” the alteration of transmission data, and the installation of computer software on to another person’s computer or device.

Countless day-to-day activities associated with newspapers, public relations, marketing — you name it — can be affected by these new regulations, including sending an email to enquire about stories for the newspaper, or information for a story, etc.

Failure to comply with the new rules could invite significant fines — like in the millions of dollars, man! — or even attract a private action, whatever that means. Therefore, permission has to be given in advance, before emails can be sent and not considered spam. It’s the latest brilliant legislation from the federal government. It’s surreal!

So we, who rely heavily on unsolicited emails, are phoning up everybody on planet Earth, seeking permission in advance. That’s why they pay me the big bucks.

“But why would you want to interview me?” you will ask.

“It could be that you will engage on a worthwhile fundraising venture,” I will respond. “Or maybe you will be acquitted of some heinous crime in a court of law, in some unfathomable distance in the future. Or perhaps you will win a lottery, or run for public office, or be really, really angry at some institution or aspect of society. Who can tell, the places you will go and the things you will be?”

“I’m not sure if I want to give my consent to receiving emails from you,” you may say. “I’m not sure if I want to get phone calls from you…”

“Wait!” I may interject. “We’ve already received permission from every current incumbent politician — municipal, provincial, federal. We’ve also trawled the hallways of the high schools, getting permission from every student in case they turn out to be someone important. We have blanket permission from the Music Teachers’ Association, in case a student turns out to be a rock star in 15 years. I’ve been working the phones 24 hours a day, getting ready for this legislation. I’m sweating blood. Have mercy. Say yes!”

“I’m getting ready to hang up the phone now,” you may say.

“Wait,” I will say. “Say yes, first!”

“I’m not sure,” you may say …

“Say yes! Say yes now!”

“But I’m a private person, who prefers my privacy, and if, as you say, in some unfathomable distance in the future I may want something to go in the paper, I can call you, rather than wait to be harassed digitally by you.”

“But phones may not exist in the future,” I will say. “But emails will always be around. Say yes! Listen, we’ve been planning out the issues of the Townsman for the next 10 years in advance, every possible angle or potential story, election outcome, every permutation of every destiny of every resident here in town. Our focus is local, local, local. Can you imagine? We have hundreds of thousands of potential issues to choose from. Can you believe the work we’ve been doing? But it won’t work without you! Again I say, have mercy! Again I say, say yes!”

“I’m really going to hang up the phone this time.”

“Wait,” I’ll say. “One more thing. We have permission from your neighbour. He said yes, just in case he wants to file a complaint against you over some building infraction on your property, sometime in the future. I told him we likely couldn’t report on that, because of the legal parameters we follow, but who knows, I said, things could change in the future.”

“Bob said that?” you may say.

“Oh yes!”

“All right, I’ll give you my permission too. If he files a complaint, make sure you contact me right away.”

“You bet,” I will say. “Though we likely wouldn’t report on something like that cause of the legal parameters we have to follow. Say, do you mind if I come over and get a picture?”

I will hang up the phone. 45,000 down, 5 billion to go.

Barry Coulter is Editor of the

Cranbrook Daily Townsman