Last week, a recorded customer service call with U.S. Internet provider Comcast went viral as the recording featured a Comcast representative spend 20 minutes deflecting a customer’s request to drop its Internet service. While Comcast apologized, the incident clearly struck a chord with many frustrated by customer service representatives whose mandate is seemingly to retain the customer rather than provide actual service.
Yesterday, Toronto web developer Daryl Fritz tweeted this photo of a Rogers injection into his web page:
Canadian Internet and telecom providers have, for many years, disclosed basic subscriber information, including identifiers such as name, address, and IP address, to law enforcement without a warrant. The government has not only supported the practice, but actively encouraged it with legislative proposals designed to grant full civil and criminal immunity for voluntary disclosures of personal information.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada struck a blow against warrantless disclosure of subscriber information, ruling that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information and that voluntary disclosures therefore amount to illegal searches.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the decision left little doubt that Internet and telecom providers would need to change their disclosure policies. Last week, Rogers, the country’s largest cable provider, publicly altered its procedures for responding to law enforcement requests by announcing that it will now require a court order or warrant for the disclosure of basic subscriber information to law enforcement in all instances except for life threatening emergencies (warrantless disclosures may still occur where legislation provides the lawful authority to do so). Telus advised that it has adopted a similar approach.
Last week, negotiators from around the world gathered in Ottawa for negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. I was fortunate to be asked to meet with many of the intellectual property negotiators as part of a side session sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the copyright implications of the agreement. EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton write about the event here, which also included Howard Knopf and Open Media’s Reilly Yeo.
My presentation, embedded below, focused on the Canadian notice-and-notice rules for Internet service provider liability. The government recently announced that notice-and-notice will take effect in January 2015. I explained the background of the Canadian approach, how it differs from the U.S. notice-and-takedown system, and how experience demonstrates its effectiveness.
Rogers has updated its approach to responding to law enforcement requests for subscriber information to reflect last month’s Supreme Court of Canada Spencer decision. The company will now require a warrant for access to basic subscriber information (with the exception of life threatening emergencies), a policy that effectively kills the government’s Bill C-13 voluntary disclosure provisions. The government wants to provide full immunity for voluntary disclosure of personal information, but Canadian Internet providers and telecom companies are unlikely to provide such information without a court order given the recent decision. The Rogers update:
After hearing your concerns and reviewing the Supreme Court ruling from last month, we’ve decided that from now on we will require a court order/warrant to provide basic customer information to law enforcement agencies, except in life threatening emergencies. We believe this move is better for our customers and that law enforcement agencies will still be able to protect the public.
When Canada’s broadcast regulator embarked on the third and final phase of its consultations on the future of television regulation earlier this year, it left little doubt that a total overhaul was on the table. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) raised the possibility of eliminating longstanding pillars of broadcast regulation by creating mandatory channel choice for consumers, dropping simultaneous substitution and genre protection, as well as allowing virtually any non-Canadian service into the market.
For the growing number of Canadians hooked on Netflix or accustomed to watching their favourite programs whenever they want from the device of their choosing, none of this seems particularly revolutionary. Indeed, policies that reduce options, increase costs, or add regulation run counter to a marketplace in which public choice determines winners and losers.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the CRTC seems to understand that this is a make-or-break moment since policies that worked in a world of scarcity no longer make sense in a marketplace of abundance. Yet the first batch of responses from Canada’s broadcasters, broadcast distributors, and creator community suggests that most see the changing environment as a dire threat to their existence and hope to use regulation to delay future change.