Google Expresses Concern About Canada’s Online Harms Proposal

Google has joined the overwhelming chorus of voices expressing concerns about Canada’s online harms proposal.

It’s clear that the responses that we’ve seen to Canada’s online harms proposal has been overwhelmingly negative. It started with my submission to express opposition to the proposal. What followed was a massive movement. The submissions gradually started to pour in. The list we’ve noted so far are the Internet Society Canada Chapter, the Independent Press Gallery of Canada, Michael Geist, Open Media, CIPPIC, Citizen Lab, the Internet Archive, CARL, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the CCRC, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Access Now, the CPE, multiple anti-racism groups, Global Network Initiative, News Media Canada, LEAF, PIAC, and Ranking Digital Rights, and multiple individual experts.

We are learning that Google has also weighed in on the online harms proposal. A lot of ground that was covered in the submission has been covered in other submissions. Still, the submission is certainly worth reading anyway. From the submission (backup copy) (PDF):

We are supportive of the government’s efforts to find ways to protect Canadians from online harms; however, we are concerned that some aspects of the current proposal could be vulnerable to abuse and may have unintended negative impacts on Canadians’ access to valuable information and services, privacy and freedom of expression, and the Canadian economy. We have summarised these concerns below and provide further detail in the rest of our submission.

The types of providers and services that are in and out of scope must be clearly identified, recognising the distinct nature of different types of services and user interactivity, differing abilities to moderate content, and the impact on access to information.

Obligations must be limited to illegal content to avoid spurring the unnecessary removal of lawful, legitimate content.

In order for illegal content to be removed expeditiously, formal legal complaint systems must be distinct from systems to address community guidelines violations. Rigid 24-hour deadlines for taking action against reported content do not allow providers to carefully assess the relevant law and context and would be counterproductive.

Mandatory obligations to proactively monitor and identify content across the entire service are disproportionate and will result in the blocking of legitimate content.

Requirements to disclose user data to law enforcement agencies must be accompanied by due process safeguards to prevent the risk of unwarranted government surveillance and of encroaching on users’ privacy rights.

The obligation to include demographic data in regular reports to the DSC is impractical and may undermine user privacy.

Regulatory oversight and enforcement should focus on systemic failures rather than individual cases of non-compliance so as to avoid stifling access to information, free expression, and innovation.

To avoid the unnecessary blocking or removal of lawful, legitimate content, financial and criminal penalties must be applied reasonably and proportionately.

A lot of these views are, of course, shared by many other submissions in the “consultation”. There really isn’t a lot of new ground being covered as far as the main points are concerned. If anything, this adds to the overwhelming consensus of what the online harms proposal means for the Internet as a whole in Canada. So, any concern that this is simply what Google wants is pretty much rendered invalid. The response is more fact and knowledge driven. The proposal was examined and these are going to be what the consequences are.

If anything, this adds to the perception that, as far as the direction the government was headed is concerned, that politicians and a small handful of lobbyists are trying to say that they know more than anyone else including those who actually work in the various fields related to the Internet. As a consequence, it attacks the very idea that this proposal was brought about by any kind of fact-driven process. The unfortunate aspect in all of this is that the proposal will cause very real damage to anyone who uses the Internet – which, these days, is almost everyone now.

Incoming Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, has previously made it clear that he intends on picking up where the disastrous tenure of Steven Guilbeault left off. He called passage of Bill C-10 “fundamental” and noted that he has a number of bills that he intends on passing. That, of course, mirrors the Liberal parties platform (Part 1, Part 2) which promised link taxes, online harms, and Bill C-10 within 100 days of their mandate. Some outlets are still considering what Rodriguez might bring to the table, but the evidence so far suggests that it’s going to be more of the same. The silver lining is that everyone is speaking out despite the odds heavily stacked against them that common sense and evidence will rule the day.

(Hat Tip: Michael Geist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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