Open Media Publishes Its Response to Online Harms “Consultation”

Open Media has joined in the growing chorus of those opposed to the online harms paper. They published their response.

The list of responses opposed to the online harms proposal keeps growing longer. At first, it was just me publishing a response opposing the online harms proposal. Since then, the list of those who generally support my position has grown. I was joined by the Internet Society Canada Chapter, the Independent Press Gallery of Canada, and then university law professor, Michael Geist.

Now, we are learning that Open Media has also joined the cause in publishing their submission to the online harms “consultation”. They basically blasted both the process and the policy it is pushing. From their submission (PDF):

The consultation presented to us does not have the features of a true public consultation, as has been pointed out by those both supportive and skeptical of new government regulation of Internet platforms. This is nothing more than a formal presentation of a predetermined plan, with an unreasonably short time frame for public comment.

This consultation provides absolutely no opportunity to help shape the framework of either the problem at hand, nor any of the proposed solutions. Rather than a solicitation of public and expert input on what the government should do, the technical paper appears to be a list of what the government will do, regardless of what it hears during the consultation period. It asks no open-ended questions. It does not solicit any evidence about problems on online
platforms, nor does it present any evidence that justifies or explains the systems it proposes. It does not entertain or even reference alternative or complementary approaches to its proposed measures.

This is unacceptable policy-making in a democratic society. But it is particularly egregious as the government considers infringing on our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and limiting citizens’ ability to participate in the primary public spaces of our era, online platforms.

The consultation paper proposes exceptional recourse that would require ISPs to block access to platforms if the platform repeatedly fails to remove child sexual exploitation material or terrorist content, and other enforcement mechanisms have been exhausted.

It is assumed that this proposal is not targeted at mainstream online platforms, who generally already make adequate efforts to remove both these types of content. Even for smaller platforms, however, website blocking is deeply ineffective at its stated purpose, being easy to circumvent, and therefore very unlikely to deter highly motivated individuals seeking the abhorrent content described. Technologies such as VPNs, proxies servers, and Tor browser are
widely available, and must remain so to allow millions of Internet citizens who live under oppressive regimes to communicate and access information, as their Internet is otherwise highly controlled and censored.

The chief consequence of a website blocking regime would be removing access to mixed use platforms from their users who have no connection to illegal content, and are using the platforms legitimately.

In their online posting, they also added this:

As we explain in our first blog analyzing the consultation’s proposals, if the government’s current proposal becomes law, we’ll see Facebook and Twitter deputized into being surveillance and censorship agents of the state, overzealously removing many of our lawful posts and reporting them directly to CSIS and the RCMP.

Why? Because our government’s proposed system harshly penalizes any online platform that fails to proactively detect and remove actually-illegal content within 24 hours — and all our legitimate posts will be so much collateral damage. It triples down on this harm by suggesting obligating platforms to report all removed posts directly and automatically to law enforcement.

A system this disproportionately balanced towards violation of our privacy and lawful expression simply isn’t fit for Canada.

Both the posting and the submission are worth the read.

There are certainly a number of growing themes throughout these submissions. One theme is the fact that the way the consultation was not appropriately handled. Many are concluding that this was little more than a box to tick rather than a serious attempt to gain public feedback. Another theme is the flawed 24 hour window to take down content which would result in over-moderation. There’s also the fact that website blocking is not an appropriate response to such content. Then there is the fear that this will further entrench large tech giant’s. Also, the consensus among these submissions is that the online harms proposal should be either significantly reworked or tossed entirely. Those are just some of the themes we’ve been noticing throughout these submissions.

We’ll continue to track these responses as best we can as we move forward.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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