Internet Society Rails Against Online Harms Proposal In Submission

The Canadian chapter of the Internet Society has published their response to the online harms “consultation”.

Early last month, the Canadian government unveiled their online harms proposal. The amount of damage this would unleash on the open Internet in Canada is almost unimaginable. It is also the second prong on the Liberals war on the open Internet (which they were very open about in their platform during the election).

The proposal itself came with a “consultation” effectively paper clipped onto it. Every observer, including ourselves, note that this is not really a consultation. Some called it a consultation by notice. Others might call it a consultation in name only. We referred to it as a fraudsultation. Whatever you call it, the goal is clearly not to seek input from the Canadian public as far as observers are concerned. If you are against this proposal, you probably will not be heard from.

Nevertheless, we did respond to the consultation, noting how much this proposal would harm freedom of expression, innovation, and the free and open Internet as a whole. The idea was less that our voice will ever get heard and more about proving that people did oppose this proposal during the consultation process. In short, we did our part to ensure that the talking point moving this forward is not going to legitimately be, “no one opposed this during the consultation process.”

One question that did occur to us as time went on was whether or not anyone else actually spoke out against this during the “consultation” process. The Canadian chapter of the Internet Society has also published their submission. In it, they said that the process the consultation underwent was inappropriate among other things. From their submission (PDF):

ISCC would like to register its profound disappointment with this ostensible consultative process.

First, it is taking place during an electoral period, despite the fact that its subject matter is composes parts of partisan platforms. This suggests it is inappropriate to be consulting when at least one of the parties, if successful in forming a government, has pre-empted genuine consideration of meaningful suggestions for change.

ISCC notes that the Guide and Technical Paper offer no alternatives and ask no questions of those wishing to make comments. Indeed, the Technical Paper has the air of drafting instructions. It leads to the conclusion that the purpose of the consultation is not to seek public input but to merely satisfy multiple target opinion groups that the Government is doing something to combat what it considers to be Internet Harms.

Neither the Technical paper nor the guide cite any studies or reports that identify the proposed harms as being the ones most urgent of legislative action, nor is it clear how the current content moderation regimes of the social media are failing, or how the Proposal would correct them in a meaningful way. While harm is assumed (and ISCC does not question that there is some harm), there appears to be no examination of alternatives to negate those harms and no research is referenced that would demonstrate that the Proposal would rectify any deficiencies in the existing content moderation regimes.

The Technical paper fails to lay out the definitions of the five listed Internet harms, but then promises both that whatever goes into the legislation will be broader than mere criminal law definitions, and then goes on to promise that whatever definitions eventually included in the legislation can be expanded upon by unilateral action of Cabinet. In other words, the central issues on which the Government proposes to legislate are not even available for consultation.. As a brilliant Wendy’s advertising campaign once said: “Where’s the beef?”. What are we really dealing with? What speech is to be subject to the censor’s pen? Who is to be silenced? Who is to be protected and at what cost?

ISCC is responding to this consultation as if this is meant to be a true consultation. It does so because the harms created by the Proposal would outweigh any good arising from it. The harms of any legislation adopted based on the Proposal will negatively impact Canada and Canadians and also ripple through and poison the global Internet.

The paper then breaks these points down further, but regardless, is well worth the read.

One of the worries we had with the “consultation” process was, “what if I was the only defender of the open Internet that showed up? Am I the only person in this process here and ultimately making some sort of last stand?” It is relieving to know that the answer is “no” and that others are there as well making supportive cases against the proposal.

Hopefully, other supporting submissions surface in this consultation to show that others did show up despite the circumstances. Still, the process is grim. One thing to look out for is if we have the same Minister of Canadian Heritage. Steven Guilbeault held the position before and was an absolute disaster in terms of handling the portfolio. This culminated in two disastrous interviews. One on CBC and the other on CTV. Compounding this was the then minister’s effort to “introduce” Bill C-10 to the Senate which helped sink the legislation’s chances in the first place. There were also numerous instances of his inability to handle tough questions about the legislation, often deflecting them instead and referring to criticisms as misinformation. If he gets the job back (he shouldn’t by many accounts), it could signal that Justin Trudeau does not care and wants these ideas rammed through and made into law anyway.

Another thing to watch out for is whether or not there will be signals in the Speech from the Throne. Those signals could indicate that Trudeau wants to declare war on the open Internet as well. Both questions will be answered in the coming days as government gets formed.

That aside, it’s great to see the Internet Society taking a stand like this. Hopefully, it’s a sign that widespread opposition to Trudeau’s war on the open Internet will carry on from the last government to this government.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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