Canadian Internet Censorship Proposal Receives Pushback at CRTC

The CRTC consultation has seen proposals for Internet censorship. Canadians, however, are pushing back against this idea.

The Canadian regulator was holding a public consultation on the future of the Internet. Corporate interests jumped at the opportunity to call on the regulator to institute Internet censorship without a court order. The reason, they claim, is that Internet streaming is killing the content industry. Unless something is done about it, TV and other forms of entertainment will magically cease to exist before too long.

The corporate interests went so far as to form a coalition called Fairplay Canada to push the censorship agenda. Organizations behind it really raised eyebrows as organizations like CBC, Bell, and Rogers became members of the organization. Many wonder why some of these organizations would even take an anti-innovation and anti-free speech stance especially given that some have had such progressive views on technology in the past.

As is often the case, history wound up repeating itself when it comes to accusations of piracy. The talking points began to crumble over the course of the last few months. One of those talking points is that piracy is responsible for declines in the entertainment sector. A study came out shortly after that painted a nearly polar opposite picture. It showed that television and film is on the rise in Canada and it is largely thanks to efforts to innovate and find new ways of delivering content to consumers. Those findings wound up representing a direct hit on the talking point as it ultimately debunked the theory being pushed by the corporate interests.

With the reason behind the push for Internet censorship being completely debunked, other aspects of the proposal wound up collapsing to logic and reasoning as well. Canadian non-profit organization CIPPIC raised questions about the claims and the need for Internet censorship in the first place. Michael Geist raised a number of issues including the fact that the proposal could be unconstitutional. Another shot against the proposal, ironically, came from Bell when they later admitted that they aren’t really losing customers to piracy after all. Unsurprisingly, Canadians went to the CRTC consultation in droves to condemn Internet censorship.

More recently, it seems that Internet censorship opponents got big help from tech giants like Amazon, Google, and GoDaddy. According to Geist, the organizations banded together to target the Internet censorship plan head on:

The not-for-profit organization envisioned by the FairPlay Canada proposal lacks accountability and oversight, and is certain to cause tremendous collateral damage to innocent Internet business owners. There is shockingly little judicial review or due process in establishing and approving the list of websites being blocked — and no specifics of how this blocking is actually to be implemented. Then, once the block is established, the appeals process envisioned afterwards is too slow and costly for small businesses who have found themselves caught up in this blocking mechanism to bear.

The submission notes the problem associated with the lack of court orders, stating “asking for the suspension of the role of the judiciary in this process will chill free speech, place the interests of those who claim ownership of intellectual property ahead of those who may have legitimate disputes with the claimants, and impose costs on companies with few resources to resolve these disputes”, adding that “examples of erroneous, political and competition motivated takedowns are legion.”

After examining the risks to innovation and the Internet economy, the submission concludes with a warning on the negative economic impacts of the proposal:

After careful review of the FairPlay proposal, we believe that it will lead to significant loss of high-wage, high-tech jobs in our industry and other industries that are directly or indirectly supported by our industry. These impacts will diminish the attractiveness of Canadian companies to foreign customers, while also reducing the Canadian Internet industry’s ability to compete with foreign competition within its own borders.

In other words, they are saying that Internet censorship would actually cost Canadian jobs and stifle innovation. Additionally, the proposal would make Canada a less attractive place to invest. As many economists know, foreign investment is helpful for the Canadian economy. So, policies that impede this can be harmful to the Canadian economy as a whole.

It seems that politicians are speaking out on the matter. Geist notes that the NDP is proposing a digital bill of rights. Meanwhile, a Conservative MP also commented that the website blocking plan should be concerning for Canadians:

After nearly two months of public debate, today marks the deadline for submissions to the CRTC on the Bell coalition website blocking plan. On the eve of the deadline, MPs from both the Conservative and NDP parties have begun placing the issue on the political agenda. NDP MP Brian Masse plans to introduce a motion on a digital bill of rights that will reportedly touch on site blocking. Meanwhile, Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux told the House of Commons earlier this week that Canadians should be concerned about the site blocking proposal:

The fight for net neutrality is extremely important right now. A few months ago, Bell and several other media conglomerates announced a proposal to create a mandatory blocking system for websites that they have arbitrarily determined are inappropriate. Bell’s proposal asks Canada’s Internet service providers to block websites they deem as piracy. The blocking process would take place with little to no oversight by our courts. Obviously, this plan has Internet and net neutrality experts concerned. This plan would seriously harm open Internet access for users and also violates freedom of expression rights.

At this stage, it seems that the proposal is being nearly universally rejected by Canada as a whole. Politicians, ordinary Canadians, law experts, and digital rights organizations are blasting the proposal. As a result, the few corporate Interests on the FairPlay Canada side is finding themselves extremely isolated on the debate.

Of course, the thing to remember here is the fact that this is a debate being fought at the Canadian regulator, not the government itself. So, at this stage, there is no legislation to target. So, the decision rests at the CRTC. The good news is that there is considerable pressure to reject the proposal. The bad news is that it can be difficult at times to determine which way the regulator could be leaning in their considerations.

So, at this point, only time will tell if what Canada has to say is enough to get the regulator to reject the proposal. With the consultation process now closed, Canadians find themselves holding their collective breaths to see if free speech will win out in this debate.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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