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"We know you're mobile. Now we are too." by Neal Jennings (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dfFCeQ

Warrantless Subscriber Disclosures and the CBSA: Digging into the Details

Earlier this year, reports indicated that the Canadian Border Services Agency had requested subscriber information over 18,000 times in a single year, with the vast majority of the requests and disclosures occuring without a warrant.  The information came to light through NDP MP Charmaine Borg’s efforts to obtain information on government agencies requests for subscriber data. Borg followed up the initial request with a more detailed list of questions and earlier this week she receive the government’s response.

The latest response confirms the earlier numbers and sheds more light on CBSA practices.  First, the CBSA confirms that requests for subscriber information are conducted without a court order by relying upon Section 43 of the Customs Act. It provides:

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September 17, 2014 0 comments News
Television by ccharmon (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/4TWb7g

The CRTC TalkTV Hearing: The Gap Between Can’t and Won’t

In August 1999, I wrote my first technology law column for the Globe and Mail. The column was titled The Gap Between Can’t and Won’t and it focused on the CRTC’s new media decision that was released earlier that year. The decision was the first major exploration into the applicability of conventional CRTC regulation to the Internet, with the Commission ruling that it had the statutory power to regulate some activities (such as streaming video), but it chose not to do so.

That column came to mind yesterday as I read through some of the CRTC’s TalkTV transcripts and listened to Jesse Brown’s Canadaland podcast on the prospect of a “Netflix tax.” It seems to me that both the discussions before the CRTC (particularly the CBC’s decision to urge the Commission to establish a fee-for-carriage model and a Netflix tax) and the Brown podcast with Steve Faguy fail to distinguish between the gap between can’t and won’t.

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September 16, 2014 3 comments News
The Netflix Screen by Mike K (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/73HcFe

The CRTC’s Future of Television Hearing Turns Into The Netflix Show

Five years ago, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission held two major hearings on new media and the Internet. The 2009 hearings, which featured contributions from the major telecom and broadcast companies in Canada, paved the way for Canadian net neutrality rules and the renewal of a regulatory exemption for new media broadcasters such as online video services.

Despite weeks of hearings, Netflix was only mentioned twice: once when it was referenced in a quote from a U.S. publication on the emergence of Internet video and a second time when a Canadian company referred to its mail-based DVD rental service.

Netflix may not have been top-of-mind in 2009, but my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that today it is seemingly the only thing the industry wants to talk about. New consumer choice of television channels was billed as the centerpiece of the CRTC’s future of television hearing, but witness after witness has turned it into The Netflix Show. Starting with the Ontario government, broadcasters, broadcast distributors, producers, and other creators have lined up to warn ominously about the impact of Netflix on the future of the Canadian television system.

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September 15, 2014 7 comments Columns
Conservative Party on Netflix Tax, https://twitter.com/CPC_HQ/status/509514438043791360/photo/1

Ontario Not Alone in Seeking Netflix Regulation: CBC, Government of Quebec, and Cultural Groups Making Similar Demands

The Government of Ontario’s call for regulation of online video services has generated considerable attention and a government campaign against what it is calling a “Netflix tax.” While the Government of Ontario has tried to back pedal on its request, the newly released CRTC transcript confirms that government officials were warned about the likely public response. Indeed, the following exchange with CRTC Jean-Pierre Blais foreshadowed the reaction:

THE CHAIRPERSON: To put a blunt face on it, you are inviting the CRTC to regulate Google, YouTube and Netflix, aren’t you, and what advice will you be giving your Minister later on today when the potential headline is, “Government of Ontario wants to tax Netflix” or “Government of Ontario wants to regulate the Internet”?

MR. FINNERTY: Well, in fact what we recommend is that new media broadcasting activities be regulated. We did not recommend that the Internet be regulated, but we are very clear in our submission, both our written submission and in today’s presentation, that we believe that new media broadcasting activity should be regulated to support the principles of the Broadcasting Act and to support Ontario’s very important entertainment and creative cluster.

It is worth noting that the Government of Ontario is not alone on this issue. A review of submissions from many cultural groups reveals that “regulating Netflix” is a common theme in the submissions. For example, the Government of Quebec asks the CRTC to investigate the possibility of imposing payments on online video providers:

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September 10, 2014 10 comments News
Minister Michael Coteau, Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, at the Northern Leaders’ Forum by Premier of Ontario Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/i8qraN

Ontario Government Soft Pedals Netflix & Google Regulation, But Record Speaks For Itself

As CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais anticipated, the Government of Ontario’s call for regulation of online video services attracted considerable attention, including comments from Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover roundly dismissing the possibility. Glover stated:

“We will not allow any moves to impose new regulations and taxes on internet video that would create a Netflix and Youtube Tax.”

Last night, I received an email from a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Michael Coteau that tried to soften the call for online video regulation. The spokesperson stated:

“The presentation today provided important elements for CRTC consideration as it undertakes its review. The government is not advocating for any CanCon changes, or that any specific regulations be imposed on new media TV, until more evidence is available.”

I asked for clarification on what “more evidence” means. The spokesperson responded that there will be over 100 presentations at the CRTC hearing and that all need to be heard from before moving forward.

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September 9, 2014 12 comments News