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Last summer, students from all over the US and Canada gathered to explore pressing questions at the intersection of technology and policy. Whether working on data security standards at the National Consumers League or innovation economy issues at the R Street Institute, students gained hands-on experience tackling critical technology policy questions.
2015 is just beginning, but these issues show no signs of slowing down. We’re excited to announce the 8th annual Google Policy Fellowship, which connects students interested in emerging technology policy issues with leading nonprofits, think tanks, and advocacy groups.
Applications are open today for North America, and students of all levels and disciplines are welcome to apply before Thursday, March 12th.
This year’s organizations include:
More fellowship opportunities in Asia, Africa, and Europe will be coming soon. You can learn about the program, application process and host organizations on the Google Public Policy Fellowship website.
The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology started its study on Bill S-4, the PIPEDA reform bill, last week. While news reports suggested that Industry Minister James Moore was open to changes, government MPs warned that any amendments would mean the bill would go back to the Senate for approval and likely die with the fall election. For example, MP Mark Warawa stated:
Minister, if we were to then delay and amend, would S-4 then have to go back to the Senate to get passed? My concern is – this is needed and a vast majority of Canadians want this passed – if we amend it, what’s the chance of it passing in this Parliament? Because, it’s needed.
Moore acknowledged that MPs can suggest reforms, but emphasized that “there is some urgency.”
The government’s sense of urgency with the PIPEDA reform bill is striking given that it has largely stalled progress on the key provisions in this bill for years. In fact, in one instance it left a privacy bill sitting for two years in the House of Commons with no movement whatsoever until it died with prorogation. The historical background behind Bill S-4 is as follows:
November 2006: The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics commences hearings on PIPEDA reform, one year later than the five-year review process required by the statute.
May 2007: The Committee releases its report with many recommendations that are later featured in PIPEDA reform bills (including S-4).
October 2007: Government responds to the Committee recommendations. It does not agree with the recommendation to expand voluntary disclosure to private sector organizations, noting the opposition from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and privacy experts.
May 2010: First reading for Bill C-29, the first PIPEDA reform bill.
October 2010: Second reading for Bill C-29. Industry Committee never conducts any hearings on the bill, which dies with the election call in March 2011.
September 2011: First reading for Bill C-12, the second attempt at a PIPEDA reform bill. Bill never proceeds to second reading. Dies two years later when the government prorogues Parliament.
June 2014: Bill S-4 receives third reading at the Senate and first reading at the House of Commons.
October 2014: Bill S-4 referred to the Industry Committee before second reading.
February 2015: Industry Committee begins study of bill. Government emphasizes the urgency of the legislation.
The privacy bill needs to be passed (with the expanded voluntary disclosure provision removed), but to suggest that the government has treated this issue with any urgency requires ignoring nearly nine years of legislative history where PIPEDA reform ranked among its lowest priorities.
The post The Nine Year Wait For Government Urgency on Privacy Reform appeared first on Michael Geist.
The past ten days have been a difficult time for Canadians concerned with privacy and civil liberties. Strike one came with new Edward Snowden revelations regarding Canada’s role in the daily tracking of the Internet activities of millions. Strike two was the introduction of Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation, which sparked concern from observers across the country. Strike three came with the response to those developments, with the government dismissing oversight mechanisms as “red tape” and the opposition parties choosing to focus on process rather than substance.
The opposition parties’ decision to focus on oversight is unsurprising given the weakness of the current system and the absence of any meaningful reforms within the proposed legislation. Yet the problem with focusing chiefly on oversight and is that it leaves the substantive law (in the case of CSE Internet surveillance) or proposed law (as in the case of C-51) largely unaddressed. If Canada fails to examine the shortcomings within the current law or within Bill C-51, there is no amount of accountability, oversight, or review that will restore the harm to privacy and civil liberties.
For example, the latest Snowden leaks revealed that the CSE has gathered information on as many as 15 million uploads and downloads per day from a wide range of hosting sites. The goal is reputed to be to target terrorist propaganda and training materials and identify who is uploading or downloading the materials. The leaked information shows how once a downloader is identified, intelligence agencies use other databases (including databases on billions of website cookies) to track the specific individual and their Internet use within hours of identified download.
The program removes any doubt about Canada’s role in global Internet surveillance and highlights how seemingly all Internet activity is now tracked by signals intelligence agencies. They are able to track who visits various websites and what they do from the outside, confirming the existence of a massive surveillance architecture of global Internet traffic that improved oversight in Canada alone would do little to address.
Moreover, these programs point to the fundamental flaw in Canadian law, where Canadians are re-assured that CSE does not – in fact, it legally cannot – target Canadians. However, mass surveillance of a hundred million downloads every week by definition targets Canadians alongside Internet users from every corner of the globe.
The claims that Canadians are not specifically targeted by such programs is based on arbitrary distinctions in defining “targeting” that only succeed in demonstrating the weakness of Canadian law. Given what we now know, better oversight of CSE is needed, but so too is a better law governing CSE activities.
Similarly, Bill C-51 is a problem not only because it fails to address longstanding limitations in oversight and accountability over CSIS, but rather because there are substantive provisions that raise real privacy and civil liberties concerns.
For example, the new CSIS disruption warrants featured in the bill are remarkably broad, providing legal power to effectively ignore any law (domestic or otherwise) and do whatever is deemed necessary to counter activities that extend far beyond just terrorism. It shocks to see the government openly empowering CSIS to break the law with few limitations or restrictions.
There are many other provisions in the bill that require detailed study, among them the potential website takedowns, the criminalization provisions on promoting terrorism that will be surely challenged under the Charter, and the broad information sharing provisions that the government-appointed Privacy Commissioner of Canada has warned against.
The radical reform of CSIS, when viewed alongside the mass surveillance programs of CSE, point to the need for a careful, non-partisan review of the law. Canadians may have already struck out in the hope for such a review, however, with the opposition parties confining most of their criticism to oversight. There is still time to reconsider this position since addressing oversight is surely necessary, but even a cursory review of CSE activities and Bill C-51 confirms that it is by no means sufficient.
The post Why Better Oversight Won’t Fix Internet Surveillance and the New Anti-Terrorism Bill appeared first on Michael Geist.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority has launched another round of its Community Investment Program (I am on the CIRA board and chair the committee that reviews funding applications). Last year, the CIP allocated over $1 million in funding toward 29 different proposals that included support for infrastructure, new online services, research initiatives, and digital literacy programs. Those projects are still ongoing but that has not stopped CIRA from opening the door to a new round of funding. The application system is now open with applications accepted until March 6, 2015. Apply today!
The post CIRA Launches New Round of Funding For Community Investment Program appeared first on Michael Geist.
With the United States embroiled in a heated battle over net neutrality – millions have written to the U.S. regulator to support rules to prohibit Internet providers from creating fast lanes and slow lanes that would treat similar content in different ways – observers might want to take a closer look at how Canada has emerged as a leader in the area.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established net neutrality rules (referred to as Internet traffic management practices) in 2009, relying on bedrock principles that prohibit carriers from granting themselves undue preferences or from interfering with content. The rules share many similarities with those being debated in the U.S., yet the Canadian experience illustrates that they can be used to curtail unfair practices without bringing the Internet to a halt.
The most recent application of the Canadian rules came last week, with the CRTC issuing a landmark decision on the legality of mobile television services offered by Bell and Videotron. In a classic David vs. Goliath showdown, the complaint was filed by Ben Klass, a University of Manitoba graduate student, who noted that Bell offers a $5 per month mobile TV service that allows users to watch dozens of Bell-owned or licensed television channels for ten hours without affecting their data cap.
By comparison, users accessing the same online video through a third-party service such as Netflix or YouTube would be on the hook for a far more expensive data plan since all of the data usage would count against their monthly cap. That approach appeared to grant Bell an unfair advantage over the competitor video services (Videotron was later added to the case based on similar concerns).
Bell raised several arguments in response, claiming that the mobile television services were subject broadcast regulation (not telecom regulation) and that, in any event, the offering was good for consumers and should be encouraged.
The CRTC ruled that mobile television services effectively invoke both broadcast and telecom regulation, since a data connection is required to access the service. Indeed, it agreed with Klass that “from a subscriber’s perspective, the mobile TV services are accessed and delivered under conditions that are substantially similar to those of other Internet-originated telecommunications services.”
Given the application of telecom regulation, the Commission examined whether the Bell and Videotron approach violated the rules that prohibit carriers from granting themselves an undue preference or created an unreasonable disadvantage for competitors. It concluded that it did, noting that the services “may end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.” In light of that finding, the CRTC ordered Bell and Videotron to eliminate the unlawful practice by the spring.
The decision was clearly grounded with net neutrality principles in mind. CRTC Chair Jean-Pierre Blais, speaking prior to the release of the decision, stated that there would be “no fast and slow lanes”, adding that “at its core, this decision isn’t so much about Bell or Vidéotron. It’s about all of us and our ability to access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice.”
Yet despite the endorsement of the principles of net neutrality, the decision did not apply the 2009 rules, which were viewed as inapplicable. Instead, the Commission went back to first principles to conclude that the service was simply an undue preference.
That points to an evolving net neutrality framework in Canada that includes analysis of both the net neutrality rules and the principles of undue preference. The combination leaves Canada with an even stronger net neutrality framework that better safeguards new innovative services and that will leave U.S. net neutrality advocates looking north with envy.
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at email@example.com or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.
Last week’s CRTC decision to ban simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl broadcast starting in 2017 has generated mounting criticism in recent days. While analysts initially noted that the lost revenue for Bell Media would not be material (a prediction borne out by a quarterly conference call where the decision was not raised by anyone), anger over the decision has continued to grow. Nothing compares with Kevin O’Leary, a Bell Media commentator, ranting against the decision on Bell-owned BNN as he repeatedly calls the CRTC “insane” and laments lost foreign investment into a sector that still has Canadian ownership requirements. However, with Bell seeking private meetings with CRTC Commissioners to discuss the decision and more serious critiques from CMPA’s Michael Hennessy and Cartt.ca’s Greg O’Brien, the decision has clearly left many unhappy.
If the critics are right, the CRTC decision is the “beginning of the end of the system”, erodes the value of rights, and will lead to job losses and less Canadian content. It is undoubtedly true that changes are coming to the Canadian broadcasting system, but this simsub decision is at best a small part of the reason. The post raises six points in response to the decision and the critics.
First, this decision should not come as a surprise. The CRTC telegraphed the outcome months ago when it released a working document for discussion in advance of the TalkTV hearings. The document identified two options on simultaneous substitution: total elimination or removal for live event programming such as the Super Bowl. Broadcasters and creator groups argued against the complete removal of simultaneous substitution and the Commission went with a slimmed down version of its second option.
Second, the suggestions that the removal of simultaneous substitution eradicates rights or eliminates the ability of a Canadian broadcaster to air their own commercials is at odds with the experience of most other major sporting events. The Stanley Cup finals, the World Series, the Olympics, and World Cup are just some of the major events where Canadians have a choice between a Canadian and U.S. feed. Canadians often opt for the Canadian version, perhaps because they like the commentators or the Canadian-oriented coverage. No one suggests that the Canadian availability of the Stanley Cup finals on NBC or the World Series on Fox (Sportsnet uses the international feed) eradicates rights or eliminates the ability for a Canadian broadcaster to successfully air the same event.
With the elimination of simultaneous substitution, Canadians will have a choice between the U.S. feed and a Canadian feed. If the two are identical, many may opt for the U.S. feed to experience the commercials. If Bell Media uses the opportunity to compete with local content (there were two Canadian players in this week’s Super Bowl and at least two former CFL players), many may prefer the Canadian feed (provide different commentators during the years that CBS broadcasts the game with Phil Simms and many will make the switch).
Third, it is surprising to see advocates of the Canadian broadcast system argue that YouTube provides a viable substitute for those seeking access to the missing U.S. content. The commercials are available online, but as the CRTC rightly notes, their inclusion in the broadcast is often part of the experience. This is more than just a minor inconvenience. For some, it is part of the experience that is missed in Canada (more than half of U.S. viewers watch commercials as much as the game). For example, the PSA on domestic abuse broadcast in the U.S. during this year’s Super Bowl offered an important education opportunity that was absent in Canada.
Fourth, this is not the beginning of the end of simultaneous substitution. The beginning of the end of simultaneous substitution started years ago. The growth of specialty channels, which now represent a far bigger slice of the broadcasting revenue pie than conventional channels, heralded the decreasing importance of simultaneous substitution with fewer programs substituted and subscription revenue surpassing conventional television advertising revenue. Moreover, consumers gaining increasingly control over what they watch and when they watch it contribute to its declining importance. Recording television shows or watching them on demand eliminates the simultaneous substitution issue. Watching streamed version of the shows directly from broadcasters or through services like Netflix does the same.
I argued for the elimination of simultaneous substitution in this December 2013 piece, noting that the policy trades additional revenue for loss of control over the Canadian programming schedule and turns the Canadian system into a country-wide U.S. affiliate with hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the rights to non-Canadian programming. The CRTC recognized that eliminating simultaneous substitution altogether would still create a shock to the system. Limiting the elimination to the Super Bowl may be incoherent policy (ie. why just the Super Bowl), but it has the practical benefit of starting to move the industry off the addiction to U.S. programming and toward competition rather than regulatory protection.
Fifth, the arguments over lost jobs or less content point to the need for changes to the financing of Canadian programming, not retention of problematic policies. For broadcasters, there are clearly potential short term losses, however, revenues in the television broadcast system are over $6 billion. The CRTC estimates the value of simultaneous substitution at $250 million. That is not an insignificant hit, but the cost of U.S. programming may decline as a result (being worth less to Canadian broadcasters) and broadcasters will be encouraged to compete more effectively with original content.
From the creator perspective, the success of broadcasters and broadcast distributors is still viewed as the prime source of funds for Canadian content creation. This leads creator groups to argue against almost anything that might lead to declining broadcaster revenue, regardless of the wider implications. Moreover, it means that success is often measured by obtaining funding, rather than other potential metrics such as viewers or foreign distribution. As an industry beholden to regulations, it is unsurprising that many fear change.
Yet imposing old regulations on new, innovative services will not stop the broader societal and technological shifts in viewing habits. It is up to the industry to shift away from reliance on regulatory support. Further, the reality is that taxpayers – not broadcasters and broadcast distributors – still represent the largest source of financing in Canada. The CMPA’s annual report states that financing of television production came from the following sources:
The public portion of this: public broadcaster licence fees (11%), federal and provincial tax credits (28%), Canada Media Fund (6.5% federal contribution), and other public (1%). The total is 46.5%, slightly more than the Canadian private contribution (45.5%).
Looking ahead, the private broadcaster portion may well decline. Arguments to shift the burden to Internet providers or companies like Netflix are non-starters. If eliminating simultaneous substitution from the Super Bowl leads to greater attention to competing in the global market, that is an outcome that should be welcomed, not rejected.
Sixth, the CRTC is doing exactly what it said it would: “placing Canadians at the centre of the communication system.” The criticism over the decision boils down to broadcasters and creator groups arguing that Canadians should not be able to see what they want during the broadcast because doing so hurts their bottom lines. That is not placing Canadians at the centre of the broadcast system, which the CRTC has tried to do with its decision on Super Bowl broadcasts.
The post In Defence of the CRTC’s Super Bowl Advertising Ruling appeared first on Michael Geist.
When you let regulators and politicians bully you into excluding the public from their own institutions, alienating the public that you need on your side to stave off the next round of cuts -- and the next.
In the story of market-driven public institutions, it’s we, the public, who are the angel investors. We paid to keep the archives growing, to put a roof over the museum, to amass and catalogue all of our nation’s cultural treasures (and the treasures of many other nations). The internet now makes it possible for those institutions to reach wider audiences than ever before, at lower costs than ever before – once their collections are digitised. When Siemens or another big company comes along to digitise our investments, they are the VCs putting in late-stage capital after we’ve borne all the risks, sometimes for centuries. If our management team – led by David Cameron, the self-styled MD of UK plc – offers these investor-come-latelies the lion’s share of the equity (that is, access to those treasures) for their paltry, late-stage capital, then he is in gross dereliction of his duty to us, the shareholders.
But of course, this is a stupid story. We don’t invest in public service institutions because we want them to be profitable. We invest in them because we want them to be good. Galleries, museums, archives and libraries tell us who we are. Schools and hospitals tend our minds and bodies. They are not businesses. We are not shareholders.
We have private archives, private schools, private healthcare, and private libraries. They cream off the easiest, most profitable, least onerous part of the public service remit. As austerity tightens and market logic crushes our institutions, many have become private/public hybrids, charging for some of their services, or selling off some of their treasures, or forcing the public to fit within the metrics demanded by the zealots of UK plc.
This is suicide. There is no amount of capitulation that will save your institution. If your archive charges the public to access its own memories, who will argue to keep it funded when the next round of cuts comes along? People who can’t afford to pay for your archive won’t stand up for it. People who can afford to pay for archival services already have private firms to serve them – why would they vote for their tax money to support another for-pay service?
(Image: Villa A - the archive, TheGuyCalledDennis, CC-BY)
By Richard Stobbe A year ago, BlackBerry sued Typo Products LLC for patent infringement, based on the design of a snap-on keyboard. Typo's physical keyboard was designed to attach to an iPhone, in order to mimic a BlackBerry-style QWERTY keyboard. The design was, in BlackBerry's view, imitation that went beyond flattery and ...
By Richard Stobbe For software vendors, open source software (OSS) should be treated like a compliance issue - in the same way that corporate, securities or environmental compliance is a concern for many companies. The failure to manage compliance can be costly - just like it would be if a company ignored ...
By Richard Stobbe A recent Ontario court decision (Arctic Cat Inc. et al. v. Peter Watson, 2014 ONSC 6874 (CanLII)) dealt with a foreign letter of request, or "letter rogatory" in a cross-border patent infringement case involving the invention of snowmobile prototypes. This type of request is used where a foreign ...
By Richard Stobbe A recent report shows interesting trends in US patent litigation: 5,002 patent infringement cases were filed in the US in 2014, up from 2,641 filed in 2010; Of those cases filed, the majority (61%) were commenced by NPEs (non-practicing entities), which is a neutral term to describe what are commonly referred to ...
By Richard Stobbe Who can resist an announcement laced with nerdy acronyms? Last week, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) announced the launch of a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) pilot agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO). The initial pilot will run from January 6, 2015, to January 5, 2018. Canadians can gain ...
By Richard Stobbe In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, has proposed a kind of neutral private-sector utility for the licensing of patents. He argues that "We have spent trillions of dollars inventing things and 95 to 98 percent of all patents have yet to make ...
By Richard Stobbe You may have read the recitals or introductory clauses in a license or an assignment agreement. In most cases, these clauses are just skimmed, if they are reviewed at all. In a recent decision of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the court reviewed the impact of ...
By Richard Stobbe A couple, the Ecklunds, approached Oakcraft Homes, a custom home-builder. Based on their discussions, Oakcraft prepared a house plan and gave a copy of the plan to the Ecklunds. The couple later took that plan to a rival home builder, Toscana Developments. Toscana used Oakcraft’s house plan without ...
By Richard Stobbe What is eligible to be patented in the US? This week the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) released Interim Eligibility Guidance on patent subject matter eligibility. In this document, the USPTO summarizes the instructions for examiners on the following categories which are exceptions to patent eligibility: abstract idea, natural phenomena, ...
- By Richard Stobbe They say the internet never forgets. From time to time, someone wants to challenge that dictum. In our earlier posts, we discussed the so-called "right to be forgotten" in connection with a Canadian trade-secret misappropriation and passing-off case and an EU privacy case. In a brief ruling in October, the ...
Mark Webbink Named New Chairman of SFLC Board
Last month, there were several Canadian media reports on how the work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, had entered the public domain. While this was oddly described as a “copyright quirk”, it was no quirk. The term of copyright in Canada is presently life of the author plus an additional 50 years, a term that meets the international standard set by the Berne Convention. The issue of extending the term of copyright was discussed during the 2009 national copyright consultation, but the government wisely decided against it. Further, the European Union initially demanded that Canada extend the term of copyright in the Canada – EU Trade Agreement, but that too was effectively rebuffed.
If new reports out of Japan are correct, however, Canada may have caved to U.S. pressure to extend copyright term. The U.S. extended its term to life plus 70 years in 1998 in response to demands from the Disney Corporation (Mickey was headed to the public domain) and has since pressured other countries to match. NHK reports that a deal on copyright term has been reached within the TPP with countries agreeing to a life plus 70 term. Alongside Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam (the TPP countries that adhere to the Berne standard), it appears that Canada has dropped its opposition to the change.
From a policy perspective, there is no credible evidence that this will do anything other than leave Canadians with 20 years of no new works entering the public domain. Indeed, many economists have examined the issue and concluded that extending the term unsurprisingly does not create an additional incentive for new creativity. Moreover, studies in other countries that have extended term have concluded that it ultimately costs consumers millions of dollars in additional royalties, most of which are sent out of the country.
While the Canadian decision to cave to the U.S. on copyright is disappointing, it should be noted that there are reports that Canada may still find itself outside the TPP altogether. Recent reports indicate that Canada will be required to make significant agricultural concessions (ie. changes to supply management) as part of the agreement. Japan and the U.S. have been actively working on market access issues, but Canadian negotiations have stalled as they apparently wait for the U.S. and Japan to resolve their differences. With a federal election set for later this year, the government may prefer holding off on major changes and sit out the initial TPP deal. Regardless, if the Japanese reports are true, copyright term will not be one of the issues that holds up the TPP with Canada one of several countries set to cave to U.S. demands.
The post Reports Indicate Canada Has Caved on Copyright Term Extension in TPP Talks appeared first on Michael Geist.
Blackstone audio has produced a professional, DRM-free audiobook of my 2003 novel EST, a novel about jet-lag, conspiracies, management consultants, crypto-contracts and P2P that William Gibson called "Utterly contemporary and deeply peculiar -- a hard combination to beat (or, these days, to find)"
Warren Ellis called it "just far enough ahead of the game to give you that authentic chill of the future, and close enough to home for us to know that he’s talking about where we live as well as where we're going to live; a connected world full of disconnected people. One of whom is about to lobotomise himself through the nostril with a pencil. Funny as hell and sharp as steel."
As with my other books, Audible refuses to carry this title because I won't allow them to use DRM on it. You can get it at Downpour, where all audiobooks are DRM-free. I'd really appreciate it if you'd share this with your audiobook-loving friends and encourage them to vote with their wallets for businesses that let artists choose whether their works should be locked down with DRM.
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