Michael Geist Responds to Liberal Platform. Says Party “Lost Their Way”

It seems someone else has read the Liberal Party platform through the lens of digital rights. Michael Geist is apparently unimpressed with what he saw.

Freezenet has been a world leader in examining the Canadian election through the lens of digital rights and technology. We have offered an analysis on the Green Party platform, People’s Party of Canada, The Bloc’s platform, and more recently, the Liberal Party platform. So far, the only platform that is actually impressive have been the Green Party.

In our examination of the Liberal party platform, we found loads of holes and promises that take place well after the next election. Ultimately, we wound up being very unimpressed especially when we take into consideration the Liberal party’s history. Now, it seems, Freezenet isn’t the only source examining platforms this election. Michael Geist, for the first time, has offered his thoughts on a platform. While he isn’t exactly quoting specifics in the platform like we did, he did offer some more broad analysis, saying that the platform focuses less on innovation, and more on regulation. As such, he feels that the party has “lost their way on digital policy”. From his comments:

Some of the new positions are not particularly surprising. The spring release of Canada’s Digital Charter by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains foreshadowed a commitment to new privacy rules and the implementation of a national sales tax on digital services was only a matter of time.

However, the platform extends far beyond those measures. For example, the Liberals’ plan to implement a 3-per-cent corporate tax on revenue generated in Canada, mirrors the approach adopted in France. The measure would bring new tax dollars for advertising revenues generated by Google and Facebook, but how to implement a tax policy that envisions taxing revenues from data remains somewhat uncertain.

The Liberal platform also calls for new rules regulating online content and the role played by large Internet companies in addressing content posted on their sites. Borrowing from Germany, the plan calls for significant penalties for social-media companies that fail to address online harms within 24 hours. Moreover, the Liberals plan to mandate that internet content providers feature Canadian content, support its creation and actively promote it on their services.

The shift toward greater content regulation marks a dramatic change in policy. Given the emphasis on freedom of expression in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada has traditionally tread lightly with respect to internet content regulation. There have been long-standing efforts to combat child pornography, but most other content regulation has been left to the courts to ensure due process and free speech safeguards.

The content regulation proposals raise several concerns, not the least of which is that they are likely to strengthen, not weaken, the large internet companies. By vesting responsibility for third-party content posted on their sites, those companies are likely to err on the side of removing controversial content without court oversight. Leaving content removal to Internet companies runs the risk of limiting future competition by creating barriers to entry for new companies and increasing reliance on private, largely foreign organizations for activities that are typically overseen by courts and regulators.

Geist also highlights issues with international trade obligations should the Liberals follow through on some of their promises. Additionally, he says that the most troubling aspects revolve around telecommunications and broadcasting where they are preempting a panel by making a political decision for them.

What is interesting is the fact that, for the first half of the election, Freezenet has seemingly been the only source that covered this aspect of the election. Now, it seems that someone else is taking notice of the issues these platforms raise. For us, that is a positive development because it means others are now paying attention. As more people pay attention, that helps put these issues in the spotlight.

What’s more, this development can help shift the election more on one to be fought on substantive issues rather than about the character of various leaders. Typically, this is an area where parties like the NDP and Green party do well in whereas the top two parties (Liberals and Conservatives), are more about who is dodging what question, personal attacks, and, the Conservatives favourite tactic, mud slinging.

Whether or not these latest developments will shift debates into a more productive direction remains to be seen.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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