The foundation of any national digital policy is affordable high-speed Internet access. Given the importance of the Internet to education, culture, commerce, and political participation, most countries have established ambitious targets to ensure that all citizens enjoy access to reasonably priced broadband services.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the importance of broadband is typically taken as a given, but Canadian broadband policy remains discouragingly incoherent and unambitious. The government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission have different targets, while the government has established relatively slow speed goals that will still leave three-quarters of a million Canadians without access.
The inconsistent broadband goals are difficult to understand. The CRTC’s 2015-2016 Priorities and Planning Report target for broadband access is 5 megabits per second download for 100 per cent of the population by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, the government’s target will take many more years to complete and does not envision universal access.
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Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, passed third reading in the House of Commons last night as Conservative and Liberal MPs voted in favour of the bill, leaving only the NDP and Green opposed. It now heads to the Senate, which has already conducted most of its hearings on the bill. Those hearings – which have included Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien – have been better than the embarrassing Public Safety and National Security review (hearing by the numbers, witnesses, and clause-by-clause review), yet the outcome is almost sure to be the same. Bill C-51 is on a legislative fast track and Conservative Senators are incredibly unlikely to require amendments that would send the bill back to the House.
As debate on Bill C-51 wound down, Press Progress points out that Conservative MP Laurie Hawn took the time to question the values of leading Canadian technology companies such as Shopify and Hootsuite. The CEOs of those companies, along many others, dared to sign a public letter calling on the government to go back to the drawing board on the bill. The letter highlights concerns with website takedowns, new CSIS powers, and data security issues.
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The flood of copyright notices in Canada continues to attract attention and generate concern among many Canadians. I’ve posted several pieces on the issue, including a recent post on what recipients should consider if they receive a notice. I still receive daily emails from notice recipients, with some admitting that they quickly paid the settlement in a panic and now fear that they may have opened the door to even more settlement demands. In response to this copyright abuse, I was pleased to participate in an open letter signed by many groups calling on the government to fix the loopholes in the notice-and-notice system by prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the copyright notices.
A recent Metro article suggests that the government is well aware that the system is being misused. Industry Minister James Moore’s press secretary Jake Enwright emphasizes that “there is no obligation for Canadians to pay these settlements” and that the current system is “not a notice-and-settlement regime.” Those are encouraging words that come as close as the government can to tell consumers that it does not believe that settlements should be included in the notices and to hint that it does not expect Canadians to pay.
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The launch of the Canadian copyright notice system earlier this year raised serious concerns as Rightscorp, a U.S.-based anti-piracy company, sent notices that misstated Canadian law and demanded that users pay to settle claims. The misuse of the Canadian system was the result of the government’s failure to establish regulations prohibiting misleading content or the use of notice-and-notice to demand settlements. Despite more than a year of work on potential regulations – including possible costs to rights holders for sending notifications – Industry Minister James Moore abandoned the process, implementing the system with no costs, no limitations on notice content, no restrictions on settlement demands, and no sanctions for the inclusion of false or misleading information. The government’s backgrounder says that the law “sets clear rules on the content of these notices”, however, it does not restrict the ability for rights holders to include information that goes beyond the statutory minimum.
The furor over the Rightscorp notices died down in recent weeks, but now another U.S. anti-piracy firm is flooding the Canadian market with thousands of notices, all seeking payment for alleged infringements. CEG TEK, a well-known U.S. firm, is sending notices that reference Canadian copyright law, but use the notice-and-notice system to pressure recipients into paying large settlements. A blog reader sent along a sample notice posted below (TekSavvy has posted a similar one they received).
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The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology started its study on Bill S-4, the PIPEDA reform bill, last week. While news reports suggested that Industry Minister James Moore was open to changes, government MPs warned that any amendments would mean the bill would go back to the Senate for approval and likely die with the fall election. For example, MP Mark Warawa stated:
Minister, if we were to then delay and amend, would S-4 then have to go back to the Senate to get passed? My concern is – this is needed and a vast majority of Canadians want this passed – if we amend it, what’s the chance of it passing in this Parliament? Because, it’s needed.
Moore acknowledged that MPs can suggest reforms, but emphasized that “there is some urgency.”
The government’s sense of urgency with the PIPEDA reform bill is striking given that it has largely stalled progress on the key provisions in this bill for years. In fact, in one instance it left a privacy bill sitting for two years in the House of Commons with no movement whatsoever until it died with prorogation. The historical background behind Bill S-4 is as follows:
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