Ordinary Thursday Anything But For Canadian Internet

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that last Thursday began as an ordinary, rainy, spring day in Ottawa.  Canadian politicians, having just avoided an unwanted election, were only two days away from an extended summer break.  Yet by the end of the day, a trio of events unfolded that could help shape the Internet in Canada for years to come.

The first event took place mid-morning, with the introduction of new lawful access legislation.  The bills would dramatically change the Internet in Canada, requiring Internet service providers to install new surveillance capabilities, force them to disclose subscriber information such as name, address, and email address without a court order, as well as grant police broad new powers to obtain Internet transmission data.

The introduction of the legislation by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan – accompanied by more than a dozen law enforcement representatives – generated an immediate wave of criticism.  ISPs expressed concern about the cost of the program, while privacy groups lamented the government’s about-face on the issue of court oversight since Stockwell Day, the previous Public Safety Minister, had pledged not to introduce mandated disclosure of subscriber information without it.

Given the experience with misuse of surveillance powers in other countries, the bill will likely continue to attract attention as Canadians ask whether the government has struck the right balance between providing law enforcement with the necessary investigative powers, ensuring robust oversight, and preserving online privacy.

Hours later, the scene shifted to Question Period, where Liberal Industry critic Marc Garneau surprised Internet watchers by emphasizing the importance of an open Internet and declaring that the Liberal party now firmly supports net neutrality.  The party has adopted a position opposing the management of Internet traffic that infringes privacy and targets specific websites, users, and legitimate business applications.

The move represents an unexpected shift in policy direction just weeks before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is scheduled to conduct hearings on network management practices.  For months, the NDP has stood virtually alone among the major Canadian political parties in its support for net neutrality.  With the Liberals now onside, the door is open for a bi-partisan effort this fall to enshrine net neutrality principles into law.

Immediately after Question Period, the Standing Committee on Industry held its final hearing before the break on the Electronic Commerce Protection Act, Canada’s new anti-spam bill.  Some business groups have sought to water down the legislative proposal, implausibly arguing that Canadian privacy law is sufficient to address persistent spamming activities and that the ECPA’s tough penalties could dissuade talented business leaders from taking on corporate directorship positions for fear of potential liability.

Representatives from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Competition Bureau, and CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein firmly put those fears to rest.  Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham rejected the view that current privacy laws are up to the task of countering Canadian spam and welcoming the clarity of the anti-spam bill.  Von Finckenstein was similarly supportive of the ECPA, expressing optimism about its potential to address longstanding spam concerns and doubt about whether the prospect of penalties would create a disincentive for would-be corporate directors.

These issues – lawful access, net neutrality, and the ECPA – will be back on the parliamentary agenda in the fall.  But on a single rainy day in Ottawa, all three moved to the fore with big implications for the future of the Internet in Canada.


  1. are the liberals against this bill? Do you think it will pass? Will it interfere with file sharing

  2. I do not like the sounds of the second paragraph…

  3. Devil's Advocate says:

    Here we go!
    First we had providers jumping on the DPI bandwagon, raising questions about privacy and illegal search, as well as anti-competitive practices.

    Then we get “targeted marketing” companies (NebuAd, Phorm, etc.) wanting to install their DPI at the providers’ front gates.

    We start to get some noise from the NDP about the wide implications of such activities as they pertain to privacy, fair competition, and net neutrality.

    Now comes the BS that we somehow NEED to REQUIRE providers to snoop on us?!?

    Naturally, if this goes through, we will have to simply “accept” DPI as a normal part of our lives, as that’s what would be needed for providers to perform what is being proposed.

    I’m sure this would make Bell and Rogers extremely happy, as they would then have the complete freedom to install all the DPI processes they want, without any further oversight or argument from the Public. (Of course, they would only cooperate if they got to install it themselves, and they will get their way on that one.)

    And, while the Government is busy trying to seal our internet’s fate with Police State policies, they also want us to believe that, somehow, NET NEUTRALITY will be given a fair shake??!?

    These jokers need to be ejected from our Parliament! It’s obvious they’re free-basing something and can’t be trusted with the future of our Internet.

  4. bill issues
    There are unfortunately quite a few issues will this bill/

    I generally trust our police (of course they are not perfect, but thats hardly a reasonable expectation) and i’m not so worried about what the police would do with this surveillance bill, but more about what other interests are going to do with it. This tracking infrastruture that they are having tax money pay to build and force everyone to use is dangerous. Of course, it would be a target for abuse by unethical hackers, but I’m more worried about those other than our police who would have legal access to this tracking system. I can think of a few unethical groups who have been pushing to try to get this tracking infrasture put in place for their own agenda.

    One important one you notice right away is foreign law enforcement autorities. I’m sure this is under pressure from the US, but in my opinion law enforecement from other countries have no business tracking our citizens without working with / through canadian law enforcement.

    @mike “Will it interfere with file sharing”:
    The bill doesn’t mention it anywhere specifically, but the drm guys have been pushing for better tracking laws / infrastructure, and if they had a hand in writing this bill (as they have in many others), it would be a brilliant shift in tactics for them, since invoking the “p word” pretty much gives a blank check for public support. Having a solid tracking infrastructure in place would definately be a big step forward for them in their obsessive battle against illegal file sharing.

    The bill also attempts to prevent any secure encryption from being legally used (so that the police can always decrypt content if they want to) which of course limits technological developments and effects security against everything that isn’t law enforcement as well.

  5. SwiftSalsa says:

    Did the Bill pass?
    “The bills would dramatically change the Internet in Canada, requiring Internet service providers to install new surveillance capabilities, force them to disclose subscriber information such as name, address, and email address without a court order, as well as grant police broad new powers to obtain Internet transmission data.”

    Did these bills pass? I thought they were tabled.

    I think most Canadians are against what these bills represent -> the end of cyber privacy under the disguise that it’s going to stop child pornographers (and terrorists? Did they throw that catch all in there?).

    This isn’t something that should be passed without speaking to the Canadian people. Maybe we want our privacy. Having access to that kind of data is equivilent to the Canadian RCMP rebranding themselves as the Thought Police. Do we want to live in a society where we have no privacy in what we do in our own homes? Does anyone know what we can do as Canadian citizens to influence legislation? How can we make our voices heard? Start a letter writing campaign or something?

    I was happy to hear that the liberal party is for net neutrality, lets hope the conservatives follow suit.

  6. David Collier-Brown says:

    Lawful access?
    I’d respectfully suggest that this be
    renamed the “Unlawful Access” bill,
    as it proposes to make a crime


  7. WelcomeToPoliceState says:

    Just Plain Stupid
    When this law passes, such post like this would more then land me in Jail. Welcome to the Police State.

    First it always begins with the “monitoring” of information. Then it quickly progresses to information control, then to censorship. This bill is not about the abuse of powers, but to put it simply its about one’s right to exist freely. If you do not see this one coming, then put your thinking cap on now.

    If this bill does not pass for the reason to catch criminals who already are BTW using encryption tools that rival RSA, BlowFish, etc. with proprietary standards that are in some cases better then the government run standards. This bill will then be passed as a measure against the so called “home grown terrorists” (or in other words YOU, and everyone who reads this post)

    I forsee a collapse of this great country, I would love very much for that not too happen, but here is one possibility. This country is based on debt vs immigration policy. In few years when such laws come, the reputation of Canada as a free nation will be tarnished, and then more laws will be passed and then this will no longer be a free country. Hence immigration will be reduced to the criminal types. As a result Canada will dramatically try to sell its natrual resources, when that happens… well you get the picture… Welcome to USA state of Ontario or BC or whatever…

    Here is the statement that would land me in jail

    The people behind this bill should be prosecuted to the fullest extend of the law

  8. am i correct in assuming that this bill is going to be much harder to pass now that the liberals state that they are against it? Do you not need the full support of both parties in a manority government to have a good shot at passing a bill?

    Just curious what everyone thinks the chances are of a bill like this passing? I for one am 100 percent against it

  9. The liberals havn’t stated that they are against this bill. The net neutrality stuff is a seperate issue. Whether or not anyone has the balls to oppose this and risk being branded friends of pedophiles has yet to be seen. I kind of doubt it though.

  10. I wouldnt be against it if it was for file sharing. I know it doesnt mention it anywhere in the bill but will the police have the athority to use the bill to track that stuff or is it just for preditors and such? Will they have the right to prosue other matters that are not stated in the bill?

  11. bill stuff
    The bill isn’t for any specific crimes, it just provides new powers to the police.
    The police could use the new powers to investigate any suspected crime.

    In a nutshell as far as I can tell the bill includes: laws that force ISPs to track people down and maintain internet content on demand by police. It also says that ISPs must set up the neccessary infrastructure to be able to do this, and this will be paid for (at least partially) by tax payer money. There is also a part in there about forcing cell companies to set up an infrastructure to allow police to remotely activate GPS in phones and such devices.

    The problems I see with the bill are not in it’s stated intent, but in the side effects.
    – This infrastructure is being set up and will be owned by private companies, and we have no way of controlling who else they will give access to besides our police, nor do we have any way of ensuring that security is tight enough to satisfactorily deter or even detect unlawful access.
    – The bill itself also seems to grant access to foreign countries’ police to these new powers without having to deal with our police or government, which I think is a bad idea.

  12. This sucks…what are the odds of the bill not passing?

  13. Investor

    The above video details illegal surveillance and optical torture hardware technology actively
    being used by the Canadian Government on innocent citizens with no criminal history or association.

    If an entire section of the wall of my home office can be replaced with one that contains
    sophisticated black (not commercially available) surveillance technology then the ISP tracking
    argument is insignificant other than to provide commercial entities with an audit trail for
    subpoenaed activity.

    Don’t be fooled. There is a high probability as an intelligent individual that your residence
    or office is similarly modified. High intensity light and a magnifying glass is required to
    locate the hardware and deliver it to your attorney.