For governments accustomed to wielding their power to regulate local activity, the Internet has long been a source of frustration. From music sites to Uber to AirBNB, online services represent an enormous challenge to conventional government regulation, which typically relies on a jurisdictional hook to compel compliance.
While most reputable global companies can ill-afford to simply ignore laws or court orders, there are still websites that operate largely beyond the reach of government regulation. In response, some governments have attempted to regulate online behaviour, ordering Internet providers to block access to offending websites.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Canadians have generally been spared website blocking initiatives due in part to the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits carriers from controlling “the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.” That rule means that Internet providers are effectively prohibited from unilaterally blocking content.
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Rogers Media’s recent decision to slash 110 jobs and end all newscasts at OMNI, its multicultural channel, has sparked outrage among many ethnic communities, who have lamented the cancellation of local news programs in Italian, Punjabi, Cantonese, and Mandarin. Supporters argue that OMNI programming is essential to those communities and worry that the cancellations will mean that viewers become less politically engaged.
Last week, a House of Commons committee held a hearing on the OMNI cuts as members of Parliament from each party took Rogers executives to task. Rogers was unsurprisingly unapologetic, noting that the decision was based on simple economics as it pointed to declining advertising revenues that made the programming unsustainable.
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A budget implementation bill is an unlikely – and many would say inappropriate – place to make major changes to Canadian privacy law. Yet Bill C-59, the government’s 158-page bill that is set to sweep through the House of Commons, does just that.
The omnibus budget bill touches on a wide range of issues, including copyright term extension and retroactive reforms to access to information laws. But there are also privacy amendments that have received little attention. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was not even granted the opportunity to appear before the committee that “studied” the bill, meaning that privacy was not discussed nor analyzed (the committee devoted only two sessions to external witnesses for study, meaning most issues were glossed over).
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the bill raises at least three privacy-related concerns. First, the retroactive reforms to access to information, which are designed to backdate the application of privacy and access to information laws to data from the long-gun registry, has implications for the privacy rights of Canadians whose data is still contained in the registry. By backdating the law, the government is effectively removing the privacy protections associated with that information.
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Bell Media president Mary Ann Turcke sparked an uproar last week when she told a telecom conference that Canadians who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the U.S. version of Netflix are stealing. Turcke is not the first Canadian broadcast executive to raise the issue – her predecessor Kevin Crull and Rogers executive David Purdy expressed similar frustration with VPN use earlier this year – but her characterization of paying customers as thieves was bound to garner attention.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that Turcke’s comments provide evidence of the mounting frustration among Canadian broadcasters over Netflix’s remarkable popularity in Canada. Netflix launched in Canada less than five years ago, yet reports indicate that it now counts 40 per cent of English-speaking Canadians as subscribers. By contrast, Bell started its Mobile TV service within weeks of the Netflix launch, but today has less than half the number of subscribers.
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Canada’s business community has mobilized in recent weeks to call on the government to adopt a more aggressive, engaged approach with respect to the biggest trade negotiations on the planet – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. The TPP involves 12 countries including the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Japan, Peru, and Chile.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that negotiators insist that progress is being made, but some in the business community are concerned that Canada may be left out of the deal unless it makes significant concessions on market access (including the dismantling of supply management in several agricultural sectors), restrictive intellectual property protections, and investor-state dispute settlement rules that allow companies to sue governments and potentially trump national courts.
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