Bell Canada Drafts Internet Censorship Regime Proposal to the CRTC

Bell Canada, one of Canada’s largest ISPs, is drafting a proposal that would task the CRTC to create mandatory website censorship and blocking.

Internet censorship is always going to be a touchy topic for Internet experts and advocates. In 2011, the US found itself in a tough battle to push Internet censorship back with the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) which would allow for a regime of online censorship based on mere accusations of piracy. It was a regime proposal sometimes dubbed “The Great Firewall of America“.

While the proposal eventually died before it became law, that didn’t stop the copyright industry from pushing the proposal of censorship into Canada. While it seems that such a proposal fell flat back in 2012, that hasn’t stopped the push to bring online censorship into Canada.

Fast forward to today and shades of the effort to bring SOPA into Canada seems to be alive and well. It is coming what some might see as an unlikely source: Bell Canada, one of Canada’s largest ISPs. According to Canadaland, Bell Canada has created a draft proposal that would mandate the Canadian regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to create an entire task force devoted to maintaining a censorship list in the name of combating copyright infringement. From the report:

According to a draft proposal to the CRTC obtained by CANADALAND, Bell is leading a coalition of companies that intends to push the telecom regulator to create a not-for-profit corporation that would maintain a list of websites it had determined were peddling pirated materials, and force all internet service providers in the country to block access to them. The proposal closely follows testimony Bell made this fall before a House of Commons committee.

The new corporation would be called the “Internet Piracy Review Agency” (IPRA).

The coalition includes broadcasters, movie studios, and cinema operators from across Canada. After Bell, some of the biggest names include Rogers, Cineplex, and Quebec theatre chain Cinémas Guzzo, according to emails obtained by CANADALAND. A complete list of companies supporting the plan has not yet been finalized. The coalition expects to file its application to the CRTC on December 19, the emails say.

Canadian university law professor Michael Geist commented on the proposal, saying that the move is unprecedented in Canada:

The unprecedented proposal, which includes the creation of a new “Internet Piracy Review Agency”, envisions the creation of mandatory block lists without judicial review to be enforced by the CRTC. As a result, the companies (reportedly including Rogers and Cineplex) envision sweeping new Internet regulations with the CRTC ultimately charged with enforcing site blocking by every Internet provider in Canada.

The proposal claims that the blocking would only cover sites that “blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally” engage in infringing or enabling or facilitating the infringing of copyright. Yet recent history suggests that the list will quickly grow to cover tougher judgment calls. For example, Bell has targeted TVAddons, a site that contains considerable non-infringing content. It can be expected that many other sites disliked by rights holders or broadcasters would find their way onto the block list.

Moreover, the creation of a blocking system will invariably lead to demands that it expand to other areas. Whether fake news, hate speech or unlicensed content, if blocking websites without even court oversight is viewed as fair game, the CRTC will face a steady stream of demands for more. For example, consider Bell’s potential response to the availability of streaming content from U.S. services without a Canadian licence or the reaction to the removal of simultaneous substitution and its argument that unlicensed content should be blocked. The TPP included a specific provision stopping Canada from restricting access to foreign audio-visual content precisely due to concerns that broadcasters and BDUs might want to lessen competition by blocking access to foreign services.

Geist also suggests that the legal standing for such a proposal is very weak and that it faces an uphill battle to convince the CRTC that Internet censorship would further the telecommunications policy objectives. Still, it does show that there is still lobbying pressure to import Internet censorship in Canada in the first place.

The proposal itself doesn’t appear to be finalized as of yet.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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