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"Law Bytes" is a weekly column on technology law that appears in several Canadian media outlets including the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and Canada.com. From 1999 - 2002, I wrote the Cyberlaw column for the Globe and Mail.



Digital Canada 150: The Digital Strategy Without a Strategy

Four years after the Canadian government first announced plans to develop a digital economy strategy, Industry Minister James Moore traveled to Waterloo, Ontario, Friday for the release of Digital Canada 150. The long-awaited strategy document identifies five key areas for policy development: connecting Canadians, protecting the online environment, developing commercial opportunities, digital government, and Canadian content.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the release of Digital Canada 150 succeeds on at least three levels. First, it puts to rest the longstanding criticism that the government is uninterested in digital issues. Moore quickly emerged as the government’s digital leader after taking the reins at Industry Canada, promptly focusing on wireless competition, spam regulation, and now a digital strategy. After years of complaints that the digital strategy issue was Ottawa's equivalent of the "Penske File" - all talk and no action - Moore has acted.


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How Telcos and ISPs Hand Over Subscriber Data Thousands of Times Each Year Without a Warrant

The lawful access fight of 2012, which featured then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews infamously claiming that the public could side with the government or with child pornographers, largely boiled down to public discomfort with warrantless access to Internet subscriber information. The government claimed that subscriber data such as name, address, and IP address was harmless information akin to data found in the phone book, but few were convinced and the bill was ultimately shelved in the face of widespread opposition.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the government resurrected the lawful access legislation last year as a cyber-bullying bill, but it has been careful to reassure concerned Canadians that the new powers are subject to court oversight.  While it is true that Bill C-13 contains several new warrants that require court approval (albeit with a lower evidentiary standard), what the government fails to acknowledge is that telecom companies and Internet providers already hand over subscriber data hundreds of times every day without court oversight.  In fact, newly released data suggests that the companies have established special databases that grant law enforcement quick access to subscriber information without a warrant for a small fee.


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Why the U.S. Government Isn't Really Relinquishing its Power over Internet Governance

Earlier this month, the U.S. government surprised the Internet community by announcing that it plans to back away from its longstanding oversight of the Internet domain name system. The move comes more than 15 years after it first announced plans to transfer management of the so-called IANA function, which includes the power to add new domain name extensions (such as dot-xxx) and to alter administrative control over an existing domain name extension (for example, approving the transfer of the dot-ca domain in 2000 from the University of British Columbia to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority).

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the change is rightly viewed as a major development in the ongoing battle over Internet governance. Yet a closer look at the why the U.S. is embarking on the change and what the system might look like once the transition is complete, suggests that it is not relinquishing much power anytime soon. Rather, the U.S. has ensured that it will dictate the terms of any transfer and retain a "super-jurisdiction" for the foreseeable future.



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The Web We Want: Could Canada Lead on a Digital Bill of Rights?

Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the drafting of Tim Berners-Lee's proposal to combine hypertext with the Internet that would later become the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee used the occasion to call for the creation of a global online "Magna Carta" to protect the rights of Internet users around the world.

The desire for enforceable global digital rights stands in sharp contrast to the early days of the Web when advocates were more inclined to tell governments to stay away from the burgeoning medium. For example, John Perry Barlow's widely circulated 1996 Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, asked governments to "leave us alone", claiming that conventional legal concepts did not apply online.

While the notion of a separate "cyberspace" would today strike many as inconsistent with how the Internet has developed into an integral part of everyday life, the prospect of a law-free online environment without government is even more at-odds with current realities. Rather than opposing government, there is a growing recognition of the need for governments to ensure that fundamental digital rights are respected.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that building on Berners-Lee's vision of global online protections, the World Wide Web Foundation, supported by leading non-governmental organizations from around the world, has launched a "Web We Want" campaign that aims to foster increased awareness of online digital rights. The campaign focuses on five principles: affordable access, the protection of personal user information, freedom of expression, open infrastructure, and neutral networks that do not discriminate against content or users.


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If U.S. Cloud Computing Isn't Good Enough for the Canadian Government, Why Should It Be for You?

In August 2011, the federal government announced plans to consolidate more than 100 different email systems used by over 300,000 employees into a single, outsourced email system. While the email transition is currently underway - Bell won the nearly $400 million contract last year - the decision quietly sparked a trade fight with the United States that placed the spotlight on the risks associated with hosting computer data outside the country.

At the heart of the dispute is the emergence of cloud computing services such as web-based email, online document storage, and photo sharing sites. These services are based on a computing infrastructure that relies on huge computer server farms and high-speed network connections that allow users to access their content from any device connected to the Internet.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that cloud computing services offer the promise of convenience and cost savings, but at a price of reduced control over your own content, reliance on third-party providers, and potential privacy risks should the data "hosted in the cloud" be disclosed to law enforcement agencies without appropriate disclosure or oversight.


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The CRTC's Future of Television Consultation: The Missing Provocative Questions

Last month, I blogged about the CRTC's Talk TV consultation and concerns that the questions were framed in a lopsided manner.  CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais was asked about those concerns in Twitter chat and he responded that the questions and answers "were intended to be provocative." I address that response in my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) highlighting both the concerns with the survey and offering some additional provocative questions that the Commission excluded.

The column begins by noting that regulation of Internet video services and the prospect of pick-and-pay television channels headline the second phase of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission's future of television consultation which launched late last month. The "TalkTV" initiative is designed to make it easy for Canadians to participate, featuring six short scenarios followed by a limited number of choices for respondents.


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Canadian Media Production and Music Groups Calls for New Rules for Netflix, Google, ISPs

Canadians love Internet success stories such as Netflix and Google as recent data indicates that millions now subscribe to the online video service and Google is the undisputed leader in search and online advertising. The changing marketplace may be a boon to consumers, but my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that it also breeds calls for increased Internet regulation. That is particularly true in the content industry, with the film and music sectors recently calling for rules that would target online video services, Internet providers, and search engines.

The Canadian Media Production Association, which represents independent producers of English films and television shows, recently told a Senate committee that new rules are needed to address the threat posed by popular Internet video services such as Netflix. The CMPA argued that a "level playing field" is needed to ensure that there is "choice, diversity and growth in a more open market place."


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Competition Bureau Raises Concerns Over Canadian Wireless Market

The longstanding debate over the state of wireless services in Canada has veered across many issues - pricing, roaming fees, locked devices, new entrants, and foreign investment to name a few. At the heart of all of these questions is a single issue: is the current Canadian wireless market competitive?

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the competitiveness of the Canadian market is a foundational question since the answer has huge implications for legislative and regulatory policy. If the market is competitive, regulators (namely the CRTC) can reasonably adopt a "hands-off" approach, confident that competitive forces will result in fair prices and consumer choice. If it is not competitive, standing on the sidelines is not option, thereby pressuring government and the CRTC to promote more competition and to implement measures to prevent the established players from abusing their advantageous position.


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Why Canada's Telecom Companies Should Come Clean About Customer Information

Earlier this week, I wrote a column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) arguing that Canada's telecom companies should come clean about their disclosures of customer information. That column was in response to a public letter from leading civil liberties groups and academics  sent to Canada's leading telecom companies asking them to shed new light into their data retention and sharing policies. The letter writing initiative, which was led by Christopher Parsons of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, is the latest attempt to address the lack of transparency regarding how and when Canadians' personal information may be disclosed without their knowledge to law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

That initiative has now effectively been joined by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and NDP MP Charmaine Borg. Chantal Bernier, the interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada, released recommendations yesterday designed to reinforce privacy protections in the age of cyber-surveillance. The report includes the following recommended reform to PIPEDA:

require public reporting on the use of various disclosure provisions under PIPEDA where private-sector entities such as telecommunications companies release personal information to national security entities without court oversight.


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Canadian Regulators Place Google's Business Model Under Microscope

Among the many Internet success stories of the past two decades, Google stands alone. The undisputed king of search, hundreds of millions rely on it daily, supporting an Internet advertising business model that generates tens of billions of dollars annually.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that kind of success invariably leads to legal and regulatory issues, though most of Google's legal fights have focused on content, such as the inclusion of controversial websites in its search index, the digitization of millions of books through its book search initiative, and the removal of links that may lead to websites that host infringing content.   


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