Columns

Come Back With a Warrant doormat, Cindy's place, Noe Valley, San Francisco, CA by Cory Doctorow (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/bB3VJN

Come Back With a Warrant: How Will the Canadian Government Respond to the Supreme Court’s Reshaping of Privacy Law?

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.

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July 21, 2014 7 comments Columns
Forgotten television by the autowitch (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/nUaS

The Future of Television Review is the CRTC’s Make or Break Moment

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.

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July 16, 2014 1 comment Columns
Cross Border Action: The People's Round on the Trans Pacific Partnership by Caelie_Frampton (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dy8srf

Why The Secrecy on the TPP Talks in Ottawa This Week? Because There is Something to Hide

Trade agreements have emerged in recent years as one of the federal government’s most frequently touted accomplishments. Having concluded (or nearly concluded) free trade deals with the likes of the European Union and South Korea, senior government ministers such as International Trade Minister Ed Fast and Industry Minister James Moore have held dozens of events and press conferences across the country promoting the trade agenda.

The next major agreement on the government’s docket is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a massive proposed trade deal that includes the United States, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Peru, and Chile. While other trade talks occupy a prominent place in the government’s promotional plans, the TPP remains largely hidden from view. Indeed, most Canadians would be surprised to learn that Canada is hosting the latest round of TPP negotiations this week in Ottawa.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the secrecy associated with the TPP – the draft text of the treaty has still not been formally released, the precise location of the Ottawa negotiations has not been disclosed, and even the existence of talks was only confirmed after media leaks – suggests that the Canadian government has something to hide when it comes to the TPP.

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July 7, 2014 16 comments Columns
Message to the mail man by gajman (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/b8fDw6

Keep Calm and Get Consent: Canada’s Anti-Spam Law Takes Effect This Week

Canada’s anti-spam legislation takes effect this week, sparking panic among many businesses, who fear that sending commercial electronic messages may grind to a halt on July 1st. The reality is far less troubling. The new law creates some technical requirements for commercial email marketing alongside tough penalties for violations, but left unsaid is that Canadian law has featured rules requiring appropriate consents for over a decade.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version)The concern over the new anti-spam law, which mirrors similar worries from 2004 when private sector privacy legislation arrived, suggests that many may not have complied with their existing obligations. As Canadians receive a flood of requests for consent from long-forgotten organizations they never realized had collected and used their personal information in the first place, the controversy over the rollout of the new anti-spam law says more about poor compliance rates with current privacy laws than it does about the new regulations.

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June 30, 2014 5 comments Columns
What's on the blacklist? Three sites that SOPA could put at risk by opensource.com (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/aZhtRV

Should Canadian Courts Decide What the World Gets to See Online?

The challenge of jurisdiction and the Internet has long been one of the most contentious online legal issues. Given that the Internet has little regard for conventional borders, the question of whose law applies, which court gets to apply it, and how it can be enforced is seemingly always a challenge.  

Striking the right balance can be exceptionally difficult: if courts are unable to assert jurisdiction, the Internet becomes a proverbial “wild west” with no applicable law. Conversely, if every court asserts jurisdiction, the Internet becomes over-regulated with a myriad of potentially conflicting laws vying to govern online activities.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that in recent years, courts in many countries have adopted a reasonable balance where they are willing to assert jurisdiction over online activities or companies where there is a “real and substantial” connection, but they limit the scope of enforcing their rulings to their own jurisdiction.  In other words, companies cannot disregard local laws where they operate there, but courts similarly should not disregard the prospect of conflicting rules between different countries.

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June 27, 2014 5 comments Columns