Internet Censorship Comes to Canada Thanks to GoldTV Court Order

A Canadian court is ordering ISPs to take the backwards approach of censoring the Internet to enforce copyright.

It’s a case that highlights the dangers of entertainment corporations buying up and owning ISPs. The major ISPs went to court demanding that the court order them to begin censoring the Internet. The service they were targeting is a service known as GoldTV. Smaller independent ISP, Teksavvy, intervened and appealed the ruling in 2019. They were joined by digital law clinic, CIPPIC. The idea, of course, is that Internet censorship has, and always will be, a terrible idea because it solves nothing and greatly puts at risk free speech.

One of the big risk here is that if one domain gets censored, what’s to stop other domains being censored? In fact, in 2020, that’s precisely what happened when the ISPs began expanding their censorship lists without court oversight.

The court battle carried on anyway with digital rights on the line. Sadly, we are learning today that the court ruled against the free and open Internet. Telecom lawyer and Teksavvy employee, Andy Kaplan-Myrth, explained that ISPs are now being forced to block IP addresses:

Canada’s Internet is now being filtered by court order to enforce copyright.

ISPs are now being forced to block IP addresses in an effort to, allegedly, block unauthorized streaming of Hockey games:

Long story short: Rogers, Bell, and Quebecor got a court order against major ISPs plus relatively tiny TekSavvy and Distributel, to block whatever IP addresses they tell us to, in the name of filtering out unlicensed hockey games.

Teksavvy is now displaying a notice explaining why they are forced to censor specific websites. So, whenever a website is blocked on that ISP, customers are redirected to that page. The page reads, in part, the following:

In July 2019, Bell Media Inc., Groupe TVA Inc. (owned by Videotron’s parent, Quebecor), and Rogers Media Inc. (the Plaintiffs) asked the Federal Court to issue an order forcing themselves and some other Canadian ISPs to block access to certain domain names and IP addresses. On November 15, the Federal Court issued a 2-year blocking order (File Number T-1169-19). Since the Plaintiffs specifically named TekSavvy as one of the ISPs on the Order, we are required to block the sites that are listed in the Order.

TekSavvy opposed the Order in the first place, and we are appealing the Order now because, among other things, a blocking order is a grave violation of network neutrality and a fundamental change to what we do as an Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The principles of common carriage and network neutrality mean ISPs carry traffic to and from end-users in as neutral a fashion as possible. All ISPs should defend the basic principle that we are not liable for or responsible for the content of the traffic on our networks.

The case is called Bell Media Inc. v. GoldTV.Biz, 2019 FC 1432. Note that the Plaintiffs can apply to the court to change the list of sites that are blocked. Since that court Order won’t get updated with newer lists of sites to be blocked, we’re posting the latest list here.

The page goes on to explain that the blocking that is being ordered is DNS (Domain Name System), so accessing the website through the standard “www” address is what will be affected. If you are able to obtain the IP address (typically can be accomplished through DNS lookup tools), then you can, at least, access the site by typing in the IP address instead. So, such a blockade is trivially circumvented to begin with.

There are, of course, other methods of circumventing this. It can be done by accessing the site through a proxy (not really secure), TOR (more secure, but may be slow), or a VPN (costs money).

Of course, the problem , as highlighted above, is that this becomes both a free speech issue and a network neutrality issue. Already, the block lists have been expanded at least once already without court oversight and there doesn’t appear to really be anything stopping those lists from expanding at this point. So, what’s to stop an ISP from, say, blocking a union website or a website critical of their activities? At this point, not a whole lot.

Further, it is a network neutrality problem because ISPs are supposed to simply serve data that is requested. They aren’t exactly arbiter of what you can and cannot see. The more this sort of activity happens, the more in danger network neutrality becomes. We’ve already seen in the US how hard ISPs pushed to implement fast lanes and throttling the moment Network Neutrality was gutted in the US back in 2017. The only reason the situation didn’t quickly deteriorate in the US is because California intervened (rather successfully, we might add).

Unless this decision gets appealed again, this could really be the first crack in the shield of Canadian network neutrality. We can only hope that things don’t get worse, but we all know that there will be lots of effort to turn that crack into a gaping hole.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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