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CRTC will work with allies abroad to catch rogue telemarketers, chairman says

CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais appears at a Commons Canadian heritage committee in Ottawa, Thursday, October 4, 2012. Blais says the agency is exploring a range of new investigative tools, including international operations to catch rogue telemarketers who operate outside of Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais appears at a Commons Canadian heritage committee in Ottawa, Thursday, October 4, 2012. Blais says the agency is exploring a range of new investigative tools, including international operations to catch rogue telemarketers who operate outside of Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

TORONTO - The CRTC is exploring a range of new tools to detect and track rogue telemarketers who operate outside of Canada, the head of Canada's telecommunications agency said Thursday.

"There are few jobs, few sectors and few aspects of our lives that remain untouched by digital technologies. Therefore, the integrity of the system must be continually maintained and enhanced," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais told the Economic Club of Canada.

Blais said the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and its partners in other countries will work together to monitor communications flows in their jurisdictions and use them to find unscrupulous telemarketers.

As an example, he said they will monitor decoy phone numbers in hopes of receiving calls from rogue telemarketers and tracking them back to their source.

"It's a big data approach to solving a problem," Blais said in an interview.

He said the CRTC hasn't used this technique, before but it has been used by other law-enforcement agencies.

Blais said the approach will be "a far cry" from the type of massive data collection that has been described by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency who has released documents that show the widespread use of advanced surveillance by the U.S. government and some of its allies.

"This is about achieving the ends that, I think, Canadians by consensus thought we should be achieving," Blais said.

"We get the complaints of people who get harassed by, frankly, rude telemarketers, illegal telemarketers — often from off-shore — that are trying to sell poor-quality goods and services."

He said that there's always been a challenge to enforce the laws when the activities cross jurisdictions.

Canada originally worked with one or two organizations in other countries, but Blais said the network has grown. The CRTC currently has partners in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands.

On Wednesday, the CRTC revised rules for the system that was set up in 2008 to prevent unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. Canadians will no longer be required to register their numbers every five years to keep them active on the list — despite industry opposition to permanent registrations.

There are currently about 12 million numbers registered on the national do-not-call list. The federal regulator says about 1,200 are added daily — about 400,000 a year.

The CRTC says it has imposed nearly $4 million in administrative monetary penalties since the telemarketing registry was created almost six years ago.

A new anti-spam law aimed at restricting other types of unsolicited messages — by email, text messages or other electronic means — will also begin to go into effect on July 1.

Some critics of the new Canadian anti-spam law, particularly business groups, have said it is unnecessary because modern email systems accomplish the same tasks. Others say the law will increase the cost and difficulty of legitimate emails, text messages and software downloads without stopping criminals and foreign marketers.

Blais said the aim of the anti-spam law and the national do-not-call list is to stop overzealous marketing or criminal activities through the telecommunications system — not punishment.

"At the beginning, you want to get people on side because most are good, honest folks that do unfortunate mistakes because they didn't know," Blais said. "We can be patient — helpful — but at one point, the law's the law."

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