Canadian Internet Censorship Could Spark Charter Challenge – Geist

More people are coming out to point out the problems with bringing Internet censorship in Canada. Michael Geist suggests it could run contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We’ve been covering the intense push to import censorship into Canada for a bit now. Previously, we covered the surprising move from the CBC to join a coalition calling for Canadian regulators to censor the Internet.

In our article, we gave a quick rundown of the history of Internet censorship in a number of countries. This includes pointing out that censorship is easily circumvented with technology available today, the overblocking that caused innocent websites to get censored, and how websites that are targeted in the first place can easily evade any potential ISP level blockade. Since our in-depth research into Internet censorship in other countries, it seems others are coming out to mirror these concerns and express new ones.

Yesterday, the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) came out to say that the claims of Canada being a piracy haven are overblown – even pointing to other findings in the study being used to promote censorship that undercuts the claims among other things.

Today, we are finding out that Michael Geist is not only echoing the reasons to be suspicious of calls to censor the internet, but also expanding on them. Geist echoed our earlier concerns for over-blocking of lawful content and also drew similar comparisons we raised with the US’s SOPA debate. Geist also made the following comments:

The absence of full judicial oversight and the likely Charter challenge are fatal flaws in the proposal, but they are by no means the only ones. The CRTC stated in 2016 in a case involving Quebec’s plan to block unlicensed online gambling sites that the law only permits blocking in “exceptional circumstances”, which places the onus on the coalition to demonstrate that the plan would further Canada’s telecommunications policy objectives. It does a poor job in this regard, relying on easily countered bromides that piracy “threatens the social and economic fabric of Canada”, that the telecommunications system should “encourage compliance with Canadian laws” and that website blocking “will significantly contribute toward the protection of the privacy of Canadian Internet users.”

The CRTC should be particularly wary of establishing a mandated blocking system given the likelihood that it will quickly expand beyond sites that “blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally” engage in infringing or enabling or facilitating the infringing of copyright. For example, Bell, Rogers, and Quebecor last year targeted TVAddons, a site that contains considerable non-infringing content, that would presumably represent the type of site destined for the block list.

In fact, legitimate online video services could become another target. In 2015, Bell Media executives claimed that Canadians who used virtual private networks to access U.S. Netflix were stealing. The prospect of targeting VPN use, which has many legitimate uses, has long raised concerns for the privacy community, but the website blocking plan could emerge as an alternative with demands to block unlicensed foreign online video services. The U.S. was so concerned about the possibility of Canadian blocking that it demanded a provision prohibiting the practice be included in the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Much of the proposal ultimately rests on claims that website blocking has been implemented in other countries with positive market effects. Yet countries with site blocking such as the U.K., the Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, and Australia include more robust judicial review missing from this proposal. Moreover, the Canadian market is already outperforming many site blocking countries. For example, more Canadians per capita subscribe to Netflix than consumers in site blocking countries such as Italy or the U.K. and Canada recently surpassed Australia as the sixth largest music market in the world.

All this provides further evidence that those who are hoping to censor the Internet in Canada face an uphill battle on multiple fronts. There is the fact that Canadians are big consumers of legal content, the huge body of evidence that points out that Internet censorship is a problematic proposal at the best of times from a technical point of view, and whether or not censorship without judicial oversight can even stand up under Canadian law. This goes over top of the questions of morality of Internet censorship in the first place among other things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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