Alphabet Soup II by Chrissy Wainwright (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Alphabet Soup II by Chrissy Wainwright (CC BY-NC 2.0)


The Letters of the Law: 2014 in Tech Law and Policy

With revelations about millions of warrantless requests for Internet and telecom subscriber information and heated battles over the potential regulation of Netflix leading the way, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) offers a look back at 2014 from A to Z:

A is for Amanda Todd, the cyber-bullying victim whose name was regularly invoked by the government to support Bill C-13, its lawful access/cyberbullying bill. The bill passed despite Amanda’s mother Carol raising privacy concerns and not receiving an invitation to appear before the Senate committee studying it.

B is for Bell’s targeted advertising program that involves the use of consumer location and browsing habits. The program was the target of multiple complaints to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

C is for CASL, Canada’s anti-spam law, which took effect in July and generated considerable panic among many Canadian businesses.

D is for Digital Canada 150, the long awaited digital strategy released in April by Industry Minister James Moore.

E is for Equustek Solutions, a British Columbia based company that obtained a controversial court order requiring Google to remove a website from its global index.

F is for Fearon, the Supreme Court of Canada decision which affirmed that police can search a cellphone without a warrant during an arrest.

G is for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover, whose leaked proposal to create a new copyright exception for political advertising sparked heated debate.

H is for the Children’s Hospital Of Eastern Ontario, which filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of patents based on human genes.

I is for in-transit shipments, which were excluded from Bill C-8, Canada’s anti-counterfeiting legislation that received royal assent late in the year.

J is for Judge Alain Breault, a Quebec judge who awarded a woman damages after she claimed that Google was slow to blur a revealing picture of her posted on the Google Street View service.

K is for Ben Klass, a communications policy researcher, whose net neutrality complaint over mobile video services led companies such as Rogers and Videotron to alter their service offerings.

L is for language laws, whose application to the Internet by Quebec authorities led some global e-commerce sites to stop serving the Quebec market.

M is for the Marrakesh Copyright Treaty for the Blind, which Canada surprisingly did not sign after playing a key role during the treaty negotiations.

N is for Netflix, which engaged in a high profile battle with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over whether it was subject to the regulator’s broadcast jurisdiction.

O is for the revelation that there were at least one point two million annual requests for subscriber information by law enforcement and government departments in 2011.

P is for Pandora, the music streaming service that may now enter the Canadian market after new royalty rates were established by the Copyright Board of Canada.

Q is for, the domain name that the Government of Quebec failed to obtain after filing a complaint.

R is for Rogers, which became the first major Canadian telecom company to release a transparency report on its subscriber information disclosure practices.

S is for the landmark Spencer Supreme Court of Canada decision, which ruled that Internet users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.

T is for Daniel Therrien, the new Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who surprised observers by immediately criticizing the government’s proposed lawful access legislation.

U is for Uber, the popular app-based car service, which faced regulatory battles in cities across the country.

V is for Voltage Pictures, which won a court order to obtain information on thousands of alleged file sharers.

W is for wireless competition, an ongoing focal point of government policy.

X is for the redacted information that frequently accompanies access to information request records. The liberal use of exemptions was one of the issues in the spotlight as part of debates over an under-funded system on the brink of collapse.

Y is for the Law Society of Yukon, one of dozens of “investigative bodies” to which organizations may voluntarily disclose personal information without a warrant under the current law. The government pointed to the complexity of the investigative bodies system as a justification for expanding warrantless voluntary disclosure in Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act.

Z is for Zithromax, the brand name for azithromycin, one of the world’s leading antibiotics. The prospect of increased drug costs was one of the most contentious aspects of the Canada – European Trade Agreement, which concluded this year.


  1. timely.. and surprising. The greatest land-grab in history proceeds apace…
    privacey, property and freedom of info are all changing rapidly.

    the rise of the machine; comnet and actual functioning systems is next, maybe?

  2. Thanks for this. So many items on this list point to glaring deficiencies in governments. On the one hand, parts of governments being unable to come to grips with the times, for example the obsolete Heritage deparment trying, 25 years after the fact, to put the Internet back into 20th century government structures made for radio and newspapers (!), or the Quebec government trying to enforce language laws globally that even domestically were declared unconstituional decades ago. And on the other hand, parts of the Federal government all too modern and advanced, and quick to seize up surveillance advantages against citizens on transparently false grounds, such as the shameful set of pretenses that were used in an effort to mask the contents of their surveillance bills. The days of the populist movement within the Conservative Party clearly ended with the retirement of figures such as Monte Solberg. The snakes remain.

  3. HEAR, HEAR, Skynet is here to stay. Follow the money. Thanks