No Senator Julie Miville-Dechene, Us Critics Do Offer Internet Solutions

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene recently lashed out at Michael Geist for not offering internet solutions. Problem is, people like us have offered these solutions.

One of the things I have long argued was that government – both in Canada and the US – have abandoned evidence based governance long ago when it comes to internet regulations. Instead, what politicians have done is just come up with some wild theory with how the internet works (either largely wrong or REALLY wrong), then come up with a law that completely fails to understand how the internet works. The end result is a law that generally makes things much worse while not even coming close to solving the problem it aims to solve in the first place.

The Online News Act (formerly Bill C-18) is a prime example. It aimed to “save” the news sector by providing a new stream of revenue from large tech platforms without raising taxes. To say that the law was an abysmal failure was an understatement. Meta, for it’s part, opted not to go along with the link tax law and blocked news links instead. The damage caused by news outlets being unable to access one of the worlds largest platforms easily eclipsed the $100 million fund model offered by Google. In the process, the government was forced to use taxpayer dollars to bail out the news sector – money that largely went to shareholders and caused outlets like Bell to flood their work force with pink slips anyway. It was an abysmal failure as it failed to address the original problem of news outlets being in dire financial straights (allegedly in some cases) and it caused immense harm in the process.

All of this, of course, was predictable. Critics like us have warned for years that all of this would happen. Yet, our accurate predictions were dismissed as “misinformation” and people like us were dismissed as “Big Tech shills”.

Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of all of this is that this governance by ignorance is a bi-partisan thing. While Bill C-18 was an abysmal failure (and the Online Streaming Act, AKA Bill C-11 is destined to share the same fate) on the Liberals part, the Conservatives also have a particularly nasty bill known as Bill S-210. To a degree, the Conservatives are actually one upping the Liberals when it comes to ignoring expert opinion. While the Liberals launched personal attacks against those questioning the approach, the Conservatives have barred study and expert testimony altogether at committee.

Make no mistake that Bill S-210 is also a bad bill – a REALLY bad bill. It’s objective is to somehow “save the children” by blocking access to pornography for minors. Much like Bill C-11 and Bill C-18, it’s going to fail to solve the intended problem and make matters worse. There are trivial ways to circumvent such blocks though things like VPNs, proxies, and TOR. Contrary to what supporters argue, kids who grow up with technology aren’t stupid. They will, sooner or later, figure these things out. What’s more is that kids will invariably end up accessing more dangerous websites to find such content in the first place. To make matters worse, it’s going to bring in a massive amount of internet censorship in Canada as well as bring in Orwellian surveillance systems as the legislation does not target specific websites in the process. As an added cherry on top, there is no real privacy protections embedded in the law beyond what amounts to “pretty please”.

Much like the Liberals, the Conservatives have taken the view that anyone who opposes this legislation are just “bad guys” and “monsters”. Their legislative approach, as far as they are concerned, is perfect and opponents are simply trying to support “criminals” and websites that are a “crime scene”.

What both sides generally fail to understand is that people like us aren’t opposing internet regulation for the sake of opposing internet regulation. We aren’t blanket opposed to regulations that would reign in the excesses of “Big Tech”. What we are doing is actually the responsible thing in light of the hyper-partisan times we live in: examine the legislation in question and use our expertise to determine what impact they will have regardless of which political party proposes it. That’s it. There’s nothing to read into any of this. No hidden corporate agenda to find nor some radical perspective to find. People like us are criticizing these bills because, objectively, they are bad bills that would cause further harm and fail to achieve the objectives they set out.

The reaction lawmakers have generally had for our criticism only proves that lawmakers aren’t interested in an evidence based approach. They are more interested in scoring political points by launching personal attacks on people like us and passing bad bills because “that’ll teach ’em!” For them, passing a bad bill is a victory. When the consequences hit, well, we can ignore all that and move on to something else because the politicians did what they needed to do. It’s no longer their problem.

A recent exchange between Senator Julie Miville-Dechene and university law professor, Michael Geist, really exemplified lawmakers rejection of an evidence based approach:


.@mgeist ,I have watched you trashing every bills dealing with internet for months. You NEVER propose any solutions to improve bills. You try to scare people about every effort to limit harms caused by platforms,even to children! Have you lost touch with reality?


My discussion with @mivillej on Bill S-210 on @lawbytespod podcast highlighted concerns and solutions. More relevant issue is government officials absolutely torched the bill last night. Everyone wants to protect children but S-210 the wrong way to do it.

Professor Geist went on to explain the flaws of the bill and pointed out that his take is not exclusive:

Not just my take. Govt officials on Bill S-210 last night:
1. Scope too broad capturing regulated services and content including Netflix and CBC Gem
2. Technology not ready
3. Incoherent mix of criminal law and regs
4. Website blocking could hurt open Internet and free speech

Privacy Commissioner of Canada also gently called for an overhaul of Bill S-210 last night at committee. Called for narrower application of age verification by setting threshold for sites and greater privacy protections for age verification.

Geist is right that these perspectives aren’t exclusively his. The legislation scopes every website into the bill. Does your website contain adult content? Implement age verification. Does your website contain instructions on how to take care of plants? Implement age verification. Does your website simply sell deck chairs? Implement age verification. Age verification age verification age verification. It is precisely the wording of the legislation that calls for this, no matter how many times the bills supporters pretend that this is just for adult websites.

The second point is also something I agree with. The technology that the bill calls for simply doesn’t exist. It calls for technology that accurately identifies minors, protects people’s personal information, and is reliable. This is something I brought up during one of the senators meltdowns. CNIL examined all available “solutions” and found that none of the solutions that existed at the time of their examination fulfills the mandates they set out. The senator, along with her supporters, simply moved the goal posts and looked for anything that was “good enough” and concluded that the technology exists today. It doesn’t and never has.

Website blocking would also greatly harm the free and open internet. I would personally take things a step further and say that this legislation is a covert attempt to crack down on LGBTQ+ content. Historically, similar proposed laws have been largely an attempt to crack down on such content in the US with some lawmakers all but admitting that this was the actual intention. Such content would be branded as content that is for a “sexual purpose” and subject to heavy handed government censorship. Even if there was no such attempt here, this legislation can’t escape the fact that this is a proposal for government to censor lawful content. While Canada doesn’t exactly have the same level of protection to freedom of expression as the United States, I’m still convinced that it would not pass constitutional muster as a result of this here in this country.

Geist also rightfully points out that people like us have always been openly offering solutions. In fact, back in 2021, I made it a point to publish a post on specifically what the government could be doing to better the open internet. In a nutshell, those solutions were as follows:

  1. An Increase in Competition in the Wireless and Internet Carrier Industry
  2. Lowering the Bills for Cell Phones and Internet
  3. Real Privacy Reform
  4. Increased Broadband Access to Rural and Indigenous Communities
  5. A Digital Charter

At the time, I was so cynical about the direction politics was taking, that I wrote it saying that these are things you likely won’t be seeing in this government. That cynicism was justified because, to date, none of these points were ever actually addressed. At most, there was a half measure for privacy reform that was tabled that is, to date, been the subject of government foot dragging for years with seemingly the intention of the legislation dying on the orderpaper whenever the election was called. I would go so far as to call it the Matt Damon of Canadian law where every government would apologize and say they’ve run out of time for that.

I would go further and say that the government could’ve also made network neutrality the law of the land as well. That would ensure that the internet remains free and open from any interference by Canadian ISPs. Obviously, we haven’t really gotten that either.

There are, indeed, government regulations that are needed (desperately and badly, I would argue). Yet, successive governments have been reluctant to even really approach these problems in the first place. Instead, it’s pet projects that do nothing to fix, well, anything, and causes even further damage.

So, contrary to what the senator might believe, people like us aren’t just blanket “trashing” “regulations” for the “internet”. People like us go through the trouble of analyzing the legislation, identifying flaws, and offering solutions. People like us argued that the Online Streaming Act should scope out user generated content. That was rejected. People like us argued that the Online News Act should have the option for publishers to opt out. That was rejected. People like us argued that Bill S-210 should have actual privacy protections that have teeth (ala fines) and scope out websites that aren’t dedicating to the distribution of adult content. That was rejected.

Had lawmakers actually paid any attention to anything we have been saying all along, they would’ve noticed that we have brought forward numerous solutions to the many problems plaguing these bills. Instead, we were all ignored and told that we are just “Big Tech shills” or “misinformed” or “didn’t know” what we are “talking about”. Then, to add insult to injury, lawmakers like Senator Julie Miville-Dechene has the audacity to accuse people like us of not providing any solutions and doing little more than spreading fear on top of it all. It’s the height of ignorance and only provides further evidence of how lawmakers have rejected an evidence based approach to lawmaking and, instead, taking the approach of ‘out-politicking’ the “bad guys”. It really is disgraceful and shows that lawmakers like Miville-Dechene is in way over her head when it comes to these topics. She really has no business pushing laws on internet regulation and her behaviour proves that time and time again.

Does the senator want to talk about fear, though? Fine, I’m happy to talk about fear. I fear that Bill S-210 will cause far more harm than good. It won’t “save the children”. It will open people up to a spike in blackmail when this highly sensitive information invariably gets hacked or leaked. What’s more, I fear that internet censorship will blanket the Canadian internet as a result of this bill. As far as I’m concerned, those are legitimate fears. After studying these things for 19 years and counting, I am pretty convinced I have a good idea about how this whole internet thing works by now – and like-minded people are on the same (or similar) page as me.

Drew Wilson on Mastodon, Twitter and Facebook.

1 thought on “No Senator Julie Miville-Dechene, Us Critics Do Offer Internet Solutions”

  1. The only consistent solution that I have seen neoliberal tech journalists trot out endlessly as the magical solution to everything has been “Legislators just need to pass comprehensive privacy legislation”. That’s it, that seems to be the only thing that they agree is good.

    I am personally excited for legislators to make a comprehensive privacy legislation bill, and then the tech journalists proclaim that it will be the “end of the free and open Internet” just like any other time a lawmaker has come out with something that would hold monopolistic tech companies to task.

    Here in the U.S., we tried passing AICOA and OAMA. Various tech-funded think-tanks and news sites like Chamber Of Progress and Techdirt clutched their pearls at AICOA and OAMA and raised enough of a stink to effectively kill the bill through amendments that “fixed” problems that weren’t there, slowing momentum on the voting on them, and it stalled in the Senate.

    Evan Greer wrote a piece in Vice about why it was important for AICOA and OAMA to succeed, and how tech orgs and think tanks and tech journalists were throwing trans and other queer people under the bus by acting like AICOA and OAMA were going to spell doom for the Internet. The article was “Big Tech Lobbyists Use Trans People to Avoid Antitrust Regulation”.

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