Culture and heritage ministers from across Canada meet in Victoria by Province of British Columbia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Why New Digital Taxes Could Play a Starring Role in the Government’s CanCon Policy

Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has energetically crossed the country emphasizing the economic benefits of the cultural industries. Yet as the government conducts a national consultation on Canadian content in the digital world, my Globe and Mail tech law column notes that new digital taxes may ultimately play a starring role.

Joly has opened the door to an overhaul of Canadian cultural policy, but the million dollar – or perhaps billion dollar – question is how to pay for it. The industry has resisted policies that might increase foreign-backed productions, arguing that lowering qualifying requirements for the number of Canadians involved will lead to lost jobs and less distinctive content. Their hopes appear to rest primarily with the possibility of a series of new digital taxes. While new taxes are never popular, the possibilities include the proverbial good, bad, and ugly.

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October 13, 2016 9 comments Columns
Privacy by Blue Coat Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Lawful Access is Back: How the Government Quietly Revived Canada’s Most Controversial Privacy Issue

The controversial issue of lawful access rules, which address questions of police use of Internet subscriber information and interception capabilities at Canadian telecom companies, has long been played down by Canadian governments. When policy proposals first emerged in the early 2000s, the Liberal government focused on the anti-terrorism and anti-spam benefits. Subsequent Conservative proposals promoted the ability to combat child pornography, and most recently, cyber-bullying.

Yet when the Conservatives passed lawful access legislation in late 2014, it seemed that more than a decade of debate had delivered a typical Canadian compromise. The new legislation eliminated liability concerns for Internet providers who voluntarily disclose basic subscriber information and created a series of new police powers to require preservation and access to digital data.

Notwithstanding the legislative resolution and renewed legal certainty, my new tech law column at the Globe and Mail notes that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has quietly revived the lawful access debate with a public consultation that raises the prospect of new rules that would effectively scrap the 2014 compromise. Ironically, the focus this time is the public demand for amendments to Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism law that sparked widespread criticism and calls for reform during last year’s election campaign.

In other words, the Canadian privacy balance is being placed at risk by a policy initiative that purports to fix privacy. Read the full column here.

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October 5, 2016 4 comments Columns
Troll under the Bridge by ngader (CC BY 2.0)

Canada’s Innovation Strategy Must Stop Tech Trolls

Developing a national innovation strategy has been a top priority of Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. Bains has created an expert panel, held meetings across the country, and launched a public consultation in the hope of identifying policies that might enhance Canada’s lacklustre innovation record.

While some have used the consultation to call for expanded intellectual property rules, the reality is that Canada already meets or exceeds international standards. The more pressing innovation issue is to address the abuse of intellectual property rights that may inhibit companies from innovating or discourage Canadians from taking advantage of the digital market.

My technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the benefits of an anti-IP abuse law could be used to touch on the three main branches on intellectual property: patents, trademarks, and copyright.

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August 16, 2016 2 comments Columns
No Piracy billboard by Descrier (CC BY 2.0)

Government-Backed Study Finds Piracy Fight a Low Priority for Canadian Rights Holders

The Canadian government plans to review the state of copyright law next year, but a recent government-commissioned study indicates that fighting piracy is a low priority for rights holders. They prefer to focus on their efforts on generating revenues from legitimate websites and services.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that piracy is likely to be a major issue in the 2017 review, with some groups sure to demand legislative reforms and increased resources for law enforcement initiatives. Canada enacted several anti-piracy measures in 2012, including creating a new rule that makes it easier for rights holders to sue websites or services that “enable” copyright infringement. The so-called enabler provision – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – has been used to shut down Canadian-based piracy sites.

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August 8, 2016 6 comments Columns
Five Data Privacy Principles from Mozilla (Put on a museum wall) 2014 by Ann Wuyts (CC BY 2.0)

Do You Consent? Four Ways to Strengthen Digital Privacy

Privacy laws around the world may differ on certain issues, but all share a key principle: the collection, use and disclosure of personal information requires user consent. The challenge in a digital world where data is continuously collected and can be used in a myriad of previously unimaginable ways is how to ensure that the consent model still achieves the objective of giving the public effective control over their personal information.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a discussion paper earlier this year that opened the door to rethinking how Canadian law addresses consent. The paper suggests several solutions that could enhance consent (greater transparency in privacy policies, technology-specific protections), but also raises the possibility of de-emphasizing consent in favour of removing personally identifiable information or establishing “no-go” zones that would regulate certain uses of information without relying on consent.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the deadline for submitting comments concludes this week and it is expected that many businesses will call for significant reforms to the current consent model, arguing that it is too onerous and that it does not serve the needs of users or businesses. Instead, they may call for a shift toward codes of practice that reflect specific industry standards alongside basic privacy rules that create limited restrictions on uses of personal information.

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August 2, 2016 4 comments Columns