DANGER INTERNETS AHEAD by Les Orchard (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/cSsSX

DANGER INTERNETS AHEAD by Les Orchard (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/cSsSX

Online Harms

lets start over by andrew j. cosgriff CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6jStC

The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 193: The Online Harms Act is Nearly Here – A Backgrounder and Preview

The government plans to introduce the Online Harms Act later today, bringing forward long-delayed legislation that will include new responsibilities and liabilities for Internet platforms alongside an extensive complaints and enforcement governance structure. What is likely to be Bill C-63 will focus on protecting children online and will be the most contentious of the government’s Internet regulation bills given the challenge of balancing safeguards with freedom of expression.

This week’s Law Bytes podcast features a combined backgrounder and preview of the bill as I walk through the years of failed consultations, expert panels, changing ministers, and challenges in bringing it forward, highlight the key issues at stake, and contrast the online harms bill with Bill S-210, which seems destined to share the spotlight.

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February 26, 2024 4 comments Podcasts
2023 cabinet picture, https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau/status/1684289753384996864

Same as It Ever Was: Cabinet Overhaul Signals Government Doubling Down on Digital Policy Mess

It should not come as a surprise, but those hoping that the government’s much-anticipated cabinet overhaul might signal a potential course-correction on its digital policy mess will be sorely disappointed. If anything, yesterday’s changes at Canadian Heritage and Justice suggest an acceleration of plans that will include continuing to head toward the Bill C-18 cliff of blocked news links as well as introducing controversial online harms legislation and perhaps even copyright reform. Pascale St-Onge, the new Heritage Minister, was a lobbyist in the culture sector before her election to the House of Commons and is likely to welcome the big tech battle, while removing David Lametti as Justice Minister and replacing him with Arif Virani means online harms loses an important voice for freedom of expression in favour of someone who has expressed impatience with delays in new regulations.

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July 27, 2023 8 comments News
Sessional Paper No. 8555-441-1219, page 76

Government Departments Pressure Social Media Sites to Censor News Links, Mean Tweets

The risks associated with the government’s online harms (or online safety) plans is not limited to Canadian Heritage’s credibility gap, which as I’ve recounted has included omitting key information in its public reports on consultations and shocking efforts to exclude contrary voices altogether. A new report, based on the government’s response to a Parliamentary Written Question from Conservative MP Dean Allison (Sessional Paper No. 8555-441-1219) raises new concerns about efforts to censor social media. The written question asked the government for “requests made by the government to social media companies to take down, edit, ban or change in any other way social media content, posts or accounts since January 1, 2020.”

The resulting report is stunning as government departments have in fact pressured the social media companies to remove news links and a range of lawful content including tweets that are said to contain “offensive language” or an “offensive reply.” The use of government power to censor social media posts or news links is exceptionally dangerous and crystallizes the fears of regulatory powers without the necessary due process and oversight that could lead to censorship of lawful content online.

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April 13, 2023 33 comments News
Witton Station - Mind the Gap by Elliott Brown (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/d7D2fS

The Canadian Heritage Online Harms Credibility Gap, Part Two: Filtering Out Critics From Participating in Anti-Hate Consultation Survey

The government’s online harms bill, led by Canadian Heritage, is likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. My series on why the department faces a significant credibility gap on the issue opened with a look at its misleading and secretive approach to the 2021 online harms consultation, including its decision to only disclose public submissions when compelled to do so by law and releasing a misleading “What We Heard” report that omitted crucial information. Today’s post focuses on another Canadian Heritage consultation which occurred months later on proposed anti-hate plans. As the National Post reported earlier this year, after the consultation launched, officials became alarmed when responses criticizing the plan and questioning government priorities began to emerge. The solution? The department remarkably decided to filter out the critics from participating in the consultation by adding a new question that short-circuited it for anyone who responded that they did not think anti-hate measures should be a top government priority.

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April 12, 2023 6 comments News
Mind the gap by Ged Carroll https://flic.kr/p/abB7eu (CC BY 2.0)

The Canadian Heritage Credibility Gap on Online Harms, Part One: Public Report Did Not Disclose 90% Opposition to Its 2021 Proposal

The government’s online harms bill – likely rebranded as an online safety bill – is expected to be tabled by Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in the coming weeks. The bill, which reports suggest will even include age verification requirements that raise significant privacy and expression concerns, is expected to emerge as the most controversial of the government’s three-part Internet regulation plan that also includes Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. Given the fierce debate and opposition to those two bills, it may be hard to believe that online harms or safety will be even more contentious. Yet that is likely both because the bill will have enormous implications for freedom of expression and because Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and his department face a significant credibility gap on the file.  To be absolutely clear, there is a need for legislation that addresses online harms and ensures that Internet platforms operate in a transparent, responsible manner with the prospect of liability for failure to do so. However, Canadian Heritage has repeatedly fumbled the issue with conduct that raises serious concerns about whether it is fit to lead.

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April 11, 2023 11 comments News