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Anti-Spam (CASL) Compliance
The federal government’s Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) aims to reduce the flow of unsolicited commercial electronic messages (CEM). It came into effect July 1, 2014. SFU communicates with many stakeholders and is affected by this law. SFU has adopted a self-regulatory approach, which means all units are responsible for using the tools and resources to assess and ensure the messages they send are CASL compliant.
This page summarizes and simplifies the complex requirements of CASL for the general public.
What is the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation?
The primary purpose of the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (usually called CASL) is to regulate the distribution of commercial electronic messages and control spam (unwanted Commercial Electronic Messages, or CEMs). The law prevents the distribution of commercial messages sent through electronic means, such as email and text messages, without the consent of the recipient. It also requires that all electronic messages clearly identify the sender and include an unsubscribe measure.
Other provisions concerning commercial software phase in between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2017. They prohibit the installation of computer programs without consent (e.g., viruses, spyware); the unauthorized altering of transmission data; the provision of false or misleading information in a message; and they provide for the private right of action and a deadline for transitional implied consent.
CASL is one of the world’s most stringent anti-spam laws. General information on CASL is available at https://fightspam.gc.ca, and the full text of the law can be found at https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/E-1.6/FullText.html.
When did CASL come into force?
The law came into effect on July 1, 2014.
Who does CASL apply to?
CASL applies to most organizations in Canada, including Simon Fraser University (SFU).
What impact does CASL have on SFU?
CASL has a fairly modest impact on SFU because most electronic messages sent by SFU are not subject to the legislation. For more information about the scope of CASL, see the following sections of this FAQ.
What kinds of electronic messages are regulated by CASL?
CASL applies to “Commercial Electronic Messages” (CEMs), which are defined as any “electronic messages” that encourage participation in a “commercial activity”. These terms are defined below.
An “electronic message” is any message sent to an electronic account, e.g. an email, a text message, or an instant message. Interactive two-way voice communications, fax messages or voice recordings sent to a telephone account are not considered to be electronic messages.
A “commercial activity” is broadly defined as “any particular transaction, act or conduct or any regular course of conduct that is of a commercial character, whether or not the person who carries it out does so in the expectation of profit”. Examples of commercial activities include purchasing, selling, bartering or leasing products, goods or services, or land; providing a business, investment or gaming opportunity; or advertising or promoting any of these activities.
How does CASL affect SFU?
The law does not apply to messages related to the core activities of SFU. SFU, like other public educational institutions, is not a commercial entity; it provides a public service and is primarily dependent on taxpayer funding. Therefore, its core activities—those activities that are central to its mandate and responsibilities—are not of a “commercial character” and do not fall under CASL. SFU’s core activities are defined in section 47 of the University Act as follows:
(a) establish and maintain colleges, schools, institutes, faculties, departments, chairs and courses of instruction;
(b) provide instruction in all branches of knowledge;
(c) establish facilities for the pursuit of original research in all branches of knowledge;
(d) establish fellowships, scholarships, exhibitions, bursaries, prizes, rewards and pecuniary and other aids to facilitate or encourage proficiency in the subjects taught in the university and original research in all branches of knowledge;
(e) provide a program of continuing education in all academic and cultural fields throughout British Columbia;
(f) generally, promote and carry on the work of a university in all its branches, through the cooperative effort of the board, senate and other constituent parts of the university.
Also, certain types of messages are specifically exempted from the scope of CASL. See question “What are the exemptions to CASL?” for a complete list of all of these exemptions.
What does CASL change?
The biggest change is that SFU units, staff, and/or anyone sending electronic messages on behalf of the University may require specific consent to send electronic messages related to events, programs, special offers, contests and promotions.
This mostly affects email but also applies to messages sent directly to users on social media (for example, a direct message on Twitter). Commercial messages delivered by mail or phone are not changed by the legislation.
What are examples of activities that fall under CASL?
Here are examples of messages sent by SFU that very likely do fall under the scope of CASL:
- A message about a sale of sweatshirts at the SFU Bookstore
- A message promoting a SFU-branded credit card
- A message promoting and charging a fee for a summer camp program offered by Athletics and Recreation
- A message promoting and charging admission to sporting events, concerts and plays
- A message about special offers and contests
Are donation requests considered to be commercial electronic messages?
Messages that have as their primary purpose raising funds for the University (fundraising messages) are exempt from this legislation. Consent is not required from the recipient before these messages are sent.
Messages that do not relate to the core activities of SFU may nevertheless be exempted from CASL. The exemptions are as follows:
- Messages sent by or on behalf of an individual to another individual with whom they have a personal or family relationship;
- Messages sent to a person who is engaged in a commercial activity and consists solely of an inquiry or application related to that activity;
- Messages sent within an organization that concern the activities of that organization;
- Messages sent between organizations with a relationship that concern the activities of the receiving organization;
- Messages sent in response to requests, inquiries or complaints, or otherwise solicited by the recipient;
- Messages sent to satisfy, provide notice of, or enforce a right, legal or juridical obligation;
- Messages sent on an electronic messaging service if the required information and unsubscribe mechanism are readily available on the user interface, and the recipient has consented to receive the message;
- Messages sent to a limited-access secure and confidential account to which messages can only be sent by the person who provides the account;
- Messages that a sender reasonably believes will be accessed in a listed foreign state, and conform to the anti-spam laws of such foreign state;
- Messages sent by or on behalf of a registered charity as defined in s.248(1) of the Income Tax Act, and have as their primary purpose raising funds; and
- Messages sent by or on behalf of a political party or organization or a candidate for publicly elected office that has as its primary purpose soliciting a contribution.
What counts as consent to receive commercial electronic messages?
The law contemplates two types of consent: express consent or implied consent.
Express consent means that someone has explicitly given consent to receive commercial messages from a SFU sender (unit, group, team, etc.). Express consent could be collected through an online form, or it can be collected in person.
Implied consent is time limited and occurs if someone has a pre-existing relationship with a Simon Fraser University unit, person or representative, and they have not subsequently unsubscribed or otherwise revoked that consent (despite the existing relationship). An academic department or school has a prior business relationship with its students and/or their parents, as they pay tuition and fees. Non-business relationships exist with volunteers and donors.
Under the legislation, SFU has three years from July 1, 2014, during which it can assume implied consent for anyone with a prior relationship with the University dating from before July 1, 2014, and for whom it has no record from which to establish the beginning or end of that relationship. This is informally called “transitional implied consent”.
Normally, implied consent expires two years from the date on which a relationship with Simon Fraser University ends (for example, when a student graduates), or the last date from which the establishment of that relationship can be calculated (e.g. the last donation date of a donor).
If someone does not provide consent, the University may still send that person electronic messages that do not contain commercial content. The University may also continue to send messages that have as their primary purpose raising funds for the University.
What do I agree to by providing consent?
You agree to receive messages that have commercial content from particular SFU units, staff or representatives. You can unsubscribe at any time from emails you no longer want to receive.
Your consent will be recorded and stored to ensure that, going forward, we send commercial messages only to those individuals for whom we have consent.
For most people, providing consent will mean that nothing changes to the emails you currently receive from Simon Fraser University.
Will I continue to receive electronic messages from Simon Fraser University if I do nothing?
You might continue to receive commercial emails if we have your implied consent. If you no longer wish to receive this type of email, you can unsubscribe at any time.
Implied consent exists if you have an existing relationship with Simon Fraser University as defined by CASL, such as taking courses, attending a paid event, volunteering or making a donation.
You may also still receive electronic messages that do not contain commercial content. This mostly includes news and information items and fundraising appeals.
I unsubscribed to email from Simon Fraser University. Why do I still keep getting messages?
Messages from the university can come from several different sources: the President’s Office, your faculty and Alumni Relations to name just a few.
Every commercial email that the university sends has an option to unsubscribe. However, unsubscribing from one email list may not remove you from every mailing list.
What are the other CASL requirements?
In addition to the requirements related to CEMs, CASL also contains the following prohibitions:
Installing unwanted computer programs: In order to prevent the installation of viruses, spyware, and other unwanted programs, CASL prohibits the installation of any program without the consent of the computer owner.
Altering transmission data: CASL prohibits the alteration of transmission data in an electronic message so that the message is delivered to a destination other than that specified by the sender.
Providing false or misleading information: CASL prohibits false or misleading information in CEMs, including:
- any representation in the body of the message that is false or misleading in a material respect;
- any false or misleading representation made in a “locator”, i.e. a name, URL, or other information used to identify the source of data in a computer system; and
- any false or misleading representation in the “From” or “Subject” line of a message.
Harvesting addresses: CASL prohibits the use of programs that “harvest” email addresses to create mailing lists.
Collecting personal information: CASL prohibits the use of computer systems to collect personal information without authority.