Competing Visions of Tech Law in Canada

My weekly Law Bytes column (Toronto Star version, freely available version) continues its focus on the current election campaign, arguing that the political parties should present their vision for the future of the Internet in Canada. While it is tempting to introduce a long list of policy questions (as CIPPIC has done) presenting a vision for the future means focusing on the big picture.  In this election, two big picture issues come immediately to mind – access and privacy.

Access speaks to several core concerns.  First, the vision for nationwide Internet access – so that no Canadian communities are left behind – must be clearly elucidated.  While the Liberal party committed millions of dollars this fall to broadband initiatives, other alternatives exist.  For example, Macedonia recently announced plans to create a nationwide wireless network covering more than a thousand square miles. A similar plan would be unrealistic given Canadian geography, however the move toward free or low cost municipal wireless networks must be given serious consideration.

Second, this issue should also touch on access to knowledge initiatives.  The Internet has the potential to tear down barriers to knowledge by embracing open access research funding that would bring federally-funded research into the hands of millions of Canadians, committing to the creation of a national digital library that could emerge as a critical cultural export, and promoting online access to knowledge in Canadian schools without unnecessary new licensing schemes.  

Third, access also raises mounting concerns about the growing tendency of Canadian Internet Service Providers to limit access to competing content and Internet services.  Over the past year, leading ISPs have used their positions as Internet gatekeepers to experiment with a series of troubling new initiatives.  These include Shaw' s introduction of premium pricing for competitive Internet telephony services, Telus' blocking access to a website deemed harmful to corporate interests, Videotron' s characterization of third party services such as Skype as "parasitic", and Rogers decision to quietly employ "traffic shaping", thereby reducing access to peer-to-peer services.  

The parties also have an opportunity to provide a definitive statement on the importance they attach to privacy. A privacy vision crops up in many areas including lawful access, a commitment to introducing anti-spam legislation, and the need for statutory protections against invasive technological protection measures.

Most importantly, a vision of Canadian privacy would serve as a guide for the upcoming statutorily mandated review of Canada' s national privacy legislation.  In light of recent disturbing privacy violations, the review provides a unique opportunity to introduce stronger privacy protections and increased powers for the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

One Comment

  1. Adaptive Computer Technology
    One thing that should be added to the list but often overlooked is the right to equitable access .
    This is relating to access to information by people with disabilities who may use adaptive technologies.
    Canada has Common look and Feel requirements for federal web sites. Relatively few departments have fully implemented this policy.
    The USA has “Section 508”, the UK has the “DDA”. Japan, New Zealand and Austrailia have similar legislation.
    Is it time for the government of Canada to finally enact legislation gauraunting access to to internet information?