Canada’s Digital Economy: Toward A Safer, Stronger Online Marketplace

I appeared earlier today at Industry Minister Tony Clement's Canada's Digital Economy Conference.  I shared the stage with Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and Tim Wilson from Visa Canada on a panel titled Toward A Safer, Stronger Online Marketplace.  My prepared remarks are posted below:

Canada’s Digital Economy: Toward A Safer, Stronger Online Marketplace

Michael Geist, June 22, 2009

Let me begin by thanking Minister Clement – both for the invitation to speak here today and more importantly for his leadership on this critical issue.  We all recognize the importance of the digital environment for commercial, cultural, educational, and communication purposes.  Canada was once a proud leader in this arena and I think most would acknowledge that we have failed in recent years to articulate much-needed vision, strategy, and perhaps most importantly – urgency.

Minister Clement opened today’s conference by citing confidence as one of his key concerns.  I think he’s identified a crucial concern.  Privacy and security are key components in instilling this confidence, but there are other issues.  I recently wrote about a digital action plan and I want to tease out several points that arise within the context of building confidence. 

1.    E-commerce consumer protection

The online marketplace has evolved dramatically in recent years and Canada needs an e-commerce consumer protection framework to match.  In this regard, I think Minister Clement should be congratulated for introducing Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act.  While often described as anti-spam legislation, it is really much more.  It addresses phishing, spyware, and consumer control over their personal computers.  It sets the right standard of opt-in consent that may eventually be applied across all consumer marketing.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that some business groups – though not all – the Canadian Marketing Association for example was extremely supportive during hearings last week – have been outspoken in their efforts to water down this legislation.   They argue that privacy legislation is good enough or that businesses should be allowed to install software on users’ computers without their consent.  These kinds of reforms will not breed confidence.  Indeed, the experience with phishing sites or the Sony rootkit case is that it is these instances that undermine confidence. If our goal is to establish a safer, stronger online marketplace, we need strong consumer protection laws that return some level of control to the consumer.  It has been more than four years since the National Task Force on Spam issued its unanimous report and there is no need for further delays in implementing its recommendations.

2.    Openness

Confidence also comes from greater openness and transparency. After years of closed, “walled garden” approaches, the world is embracing the benefits of openness. The City of Vancouver recently adopted an openness policy that establishes a preference for open standards, open source software, and open government data.  The federal government should do the same, promoting the use of cost-effective open source software and the benefits of commercial and civic activity around accessible government data.  We are seeing some remarkable open government initiatives around the world.  Witness last week’s initiative by the Guardian in the UK, which is crowdsourcing the review of hundreds of thousands of documents detailing MP expenses.  Within days, 20,000 people have taken part with about 160,000 pages reviewed.  There is no reason that we can’t see similar activity in Canada.

A presumption of openness should extend to other policy areas as well.  Open spectrum policies in the forthcoming spectrum auction would spur new innovation and heighten competition by facilitating greater consumer mobility and promote the introduction of new services not tied to a single wireless provider.

The openness principle should also cover access to taxpayer-funded research, often referred to as open access.  In recent months, the United States and the European Union have taken strong steps toward making their research openly available, with legislative mandates that require researchers who accept public grants to make their published research results freely available online within a reasonable time period.  We have started to move in this same direction but need to make it a priority.

3.    Confidence in our networks

Minister Clement opened the conference by acknowledging our slipping rankings when it comes to issues such as broadband and network infrastructure. I believe that there is diminishing confidence in Canada – sinking international rankings and incidents that raise questions about network management practices have left businesses and consumers alike concerned about our wired and wireless infrastructure. Confidence in those networks extends beyond just mere access, however.  It involves world-class speeds, fair pricing, transparent marketing, and appropriate network management practices.  This is by no means just a consumer issue – businesses big and small similarly depend upon these principles. 

As many of you will know, last week the Liberal party joined the NDP in declaring its support for net neutrality.  I think this is an exciting development, but this ought not to be a partisan issue.  It is a policy issue. While the CRTC will examine network management practices with its own hearing early next month, I believe that confidence in the network must be a core part of our national digital strategy.  In the short term, all parties should work together to address these concerns by at least addressing the easy issues such as better disclosures on network management practices, truth in marketing with minimum rather than maximum speeds, no content blocking, the openness principles discussed earlier, appropriate network privacy, and addressing the concerns about undue preferences that were raised during the recent new media hearings. 

4.    Confidence in Copyright

It will come as little surprise that my fourth issue is confidence in Canadian copyright.  A digital strategy must be about more than just the infrastructure – the content on the networks is a key issue for the digital economy and copyright plays an important role in that regard.  I’d like to touch on confidence in copyright from two perspectives – both the law and the reform process.

Let me start first with the process, which I believe has severely undermined the confidence of thousands of Canadians.  With respect, the process that led to C-61 did little to instill public confidence, with no public consultation and the sense that the process was being driven primarily by a select group of interests.  In recent weeks, that sense has recurred with the decision to continue in the non-transparent Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations and with the admission by the Conference Board of Canada that three of its IP reports were plagiarized, unduly relied on feedback from a funder, relied on too few sources, and lacked sufficient balance.  Those are their words, not mine. 

We need to restore confidence in the policy making process by putting an end to secret negotiations and an end to the unsupportable rhetoric that seeks to paint Canada as a piracy haven.  Instead we need to adopt an inclusive, consultative approach.  That means placing these issues within the digital strategy framework and following through with a broad consultation as has been recently reported.

From a substantive perspective, there is need for reform.  However, we are not going to increase confidence by adopting rules that encourage locking down content, overriding the flexibilities found in the current law, or that leave Internet subscribers vulnerable to losing their access based on unproven allegations of infringement.  We are not going to increase confidence by failing to address the gridlock faced by creators and users.

Instead, we need to provide business confidence with rules that provide sufficient flexibility to innovate.  We need rules that give consumers confidence that they won’t lose access to their online purchases whenever an online seller drops support for a particular business line.  Rules that assure consumers that it’s ok to use their PVR or to shift music to their iPod.  Rules that encourage rather than discourage research into encryption and digital security, distance learning opportunities, access to knowledge and long overdue digitization initiatives.  We can achieve this kind of reform and still implement international treaties such as the WIPO Internet treaties.

Finally, a word about leadership.   Minister Clement has obviously shown a keen interest in these issues and leadership with today’s event.  But we need to build a leadership team – for example, a Canadian Chief Technology Officer and a clear position for digital issues at the cabinet table would also feed confidence.  There needs to be a sense of urgency here – there is simply no more time to waste.


  1. I side with caution from this Minister who was responsible for creating massive health care problems when he was the Ontario Minister of Health. I’m deeply concerned with respect to his handling of monies over to GM. I think it was close to 5% of GDP. How can anyone in the country “trust” this minister when everything he touches seems to rot.

    While leadership is presented on the consultation process, what comes out of the consultation process is more what he will and should be judged upon. Copyright needs to be built into the networks, without consumers feeling the pinch. I hope as the public interest point man in this debate, that you will be bringing this to the table.

    Jason K

  2. I want to point out a filing
    In regards to #3 & #4

    Distributel, just filed with the CRTC. Its not online yet but can be seen and downloaded here: 06 22 Distributel Comments on CAIP-Vaxination R&V App.pdf

    “Bell Canada’s approach to P2P file-sharing traffic is comparable to a police officer ticketing everyone who drives a Corvette for speeding – whether or not the person is actually speeding – simply because the Corvette is capable of speeding. That is not how the law works.”


    You know, I hope in the end the CRTC wakes up and (somehow) forces Bell Canada to pay a *billion* dollars in fines for this farce and rip-off they pulled on the Canadian people (hey they say they are worth over 60 billion, let them pay a billion). Split 4 ways: 1/4 to PIAC, 1/4 to cippic, 1/4 to the Quebec consumers union, 1/4 to the people. In addition to forcing Bell to pay back 11-hrs of service disruptions per day for each day they pulled this on the people.

    The money will help fund “balance” to all the rhetioric, foreign influence, and propaganda.


  3. Long term solution – nationalize the last-mile
    Long-term solution is to split Bell and create a separate company that manages the last mile and provides it to phone companies and ISPs. Same for wireless.

    Also, while you are at it, PLEASE disband the CRTC. It is not serving us well in the 21st century.

  4. beam me up says:

    Canada’s Digital Economy: Toward A Safer, Stronger Online Marketplace – IMPOSSIBLE
    OK, by just looking at the title and by just looking at the last paragraph I can tell you now that a digital economy report and/or a Canadian Chief Technology Officer in this climate is not possible.

    Where would a Canadian Chief Technology Officer be found that wouldn’t be influenced by the cartels (ie. “funders”, as in the “funders” of the fake, plagiarized and made up reports by the independent CBoC)?

    Which person right now would suit a Canadian Chief Technology Officer?

    You would have to find someone living in a cave and on an remote island that hasn’t been influenced by the likes of the “funders”, or will be influenced by them, or write the report themselves for the Canadian Chief Technology Officer.

    You will never find someone people trust.

    All we get is paid-for rhetoric, propaganda, and the Ministers doors swinging wide open for them.

    Impossible I say.

    According to the “funders” the Canadian economy revolves around them.

    I say just lock it all up. DPI us, no more privacy, disband the privacy commissioner, install camera’s in each home for google, lets have a CRIA and Bell Canada tax on our paychecks and be done with it. This is how it’s going anyhow. It’s “Market forces”.

    It’s inevitable. Accept it.

    The star-trek day dream above will never happen in anyone’s life time.

    I accept it. You should as well.

    Just get it over and done with.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Forget the law making… it’s only made things worse
    When a company installs software on a user’s computer that phones home and reports on actions of the user, that’s called a business model. That business model can be protected by a patent. A patent is government awarded monopoly that the company makes lots of money from and uses like a stick to prevent any competition.

    Now swap the word company with individual.

    When a individual installs software on a companies’s computer that phones home, that’s called a crime. That crime can result in jail time. A company doesn’t have to waste any money taken that individual to court. Instead the government will do that on our dime so the company doesn’t need to waste any money on that.

    Result: Johnny rots in jail and companies are fat, ineffective and non-responsive to their customers. CEO’s don’t have to work hard and can rip off stock holders because there is no effective corporate governance laws. Eventually all companies look and act like GM. But that’s okay, the government will be there to bail them out and start the cycle again.

    Why isn’t there a political force out there that believes:
    a.) the customer is always right
    b.) that continous hard work should be reward (and not all these freaking hands out of monopolies and bailouts.)

    P.S. Copyrights should only be allowed to be awarded to content creators and content creators should only be able to hold a copyright for a reasonable amount of time (e.g. their lifetime + a few years.) History has shown that once trade of copyrights gets involved it results in slothfulness on the part of companies and the benefits to society nolonger outweigh the downsides.

  6. HITLER IS PROUD says:

    HEY jason
    ya know that copyright was grated for a LIMITED time to give an artist compensation, NOT give a forever laziness clause to a greedy corporation that likes to sue dead people , sue disabled and poor people and make indentured slaves of the UNRICH.

    Think about the saying that if you place a billion monkeys ina room they will eventually figure out something useful. YOU an artist are then compensated for a little while because you beat the monkeys.

    AND LIFETIME + X YEARS @ Anonymous is INSANE LITERALLY ECONOMIC TERRORISM. YOU canot tell me i a person of society gain anything form 70-100 or more years of copyright. Quite the opposite most places with low copyrights are experiencing better growth then those the USA has successfully bullied into such INSANE terroristical copyright regimes.

    In fact id argue that we have too long a regime here in canada and if the govt were serious about economic recovery it would in fact lesson copyright in half to 25years OR even 15. If as you say the customer is always right anonymous then isn’t p2p telling you that the terms for copyright are TOO LONG, and the “stuff” or Product too expensive.

    YOU LAZY BASTARDS DON’T DESERVE ANYMORE OF OUR MONIES. It is now too expensive for the common man to goto a movie theatre, and her in peterborough del maestro wants to bring in aIMAX theatre OMG WHAT A RETARD.

    Also anonymous is an american …how do i know, only a self righteous american would ask for copyright that is life plus. YOU MAKE ME SICK , take your traitors home and leave canada your not wanted here.

    P.S. Once they nationalize the last mile, the way hollywood is bribing these guys guess what your going to end up with in short order after that, we need new lobbying laws that prohibit ANY foreign entity that may even have a subsidiary in canada form doing ANY LOBBYING, ONLY THIS WILL MAKE CANADA A SAFE AND PROPER PLACE.

  7. HITLER IS PROUD says:

    oh and were any NORMAL regular people invited to these meetings?

    be interesting to see what wul dhappen if you just randomly took say 10 people off the street saying we’ll get you the day off work and pay for it, and just give us your input. MAybe even give em a free lunch.

    That would be more preferable to having more corporations and lawyers make STUPID LAWS WE DONT NEED

  8. HITLER IS PROUD says:

    Women who never owned a computer is SUED BY RIAA AND “settles”

    perfect example of what the music labels are about and why they need to be disabnaded

  9. Hitler? or Chronoss?
    Chronoss, is that you?

    Because your comments are so lame and discredit the whole copyfight movement.

  10. CHRONOS, please…
    @Name, you hit the nail on the head.

    Then again, a certain someone living in peterborough constantly popping pain meds (according to him) and writing on a blog raises other issues. Should chronos be blocked? Should there be tougher moderation of this forum? Should he not be allowed to be mad as heck (even if high on pain meds)? Many people are off. Heck, I’m “off” at times.

    See what happens when people say to much. He’s posted his address, full name, old bell account numbers etc across many forums. Some people just give it all away.

    Anyhow, I’ll say it for us (you and me):

    **Hey CHRONOS lay of the hitler BS and please do continue being mad. Thanks. Or clear your cookies and choose another nick. Some people find it rude and offensive. Thanks. The hitler thing is out of line. Please adjust.**

    As for the ranting… well forum history shows us it goes on from 1 to 3 days then stops for about a month, then starts over again. Its funny what you can find out about a person online… Most places just have his IP/nicks on a hold queue and take it from there.

  11. You mean you don’t think the music labels need to be disabnaded? :)
    “Should there be tougher moderation of this forum?”
    I think censoring the posts here would be somewhat counterproductive,
    but maybe if Bill C-46 and C-47 pass we can get his name and address and leave a bag of flaming poop on his doorstep. :)

  12. library tech type
    Canada could quickly become a leader in open government by focusing on the content creation process within gov’t organizations. Recognizing that putting PDFs on a web site is one of the lamest forms of interacting with the ecology of the web alone would revolutionize the sharing of gov’t information. See Peter Sefton’s postings on “Scholarly HTML” for example, making web publishing less of an afterthought would help realize the potential of the web for sharing public data.

  13. times are a changing…
    its good to see some direction on canadian policy with regards to the net. Canada needs more strong indusries we can run during winter.