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Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

Michael Geist - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 08:24

As e-commerce and online digital services command a growing share of the market, it comes as little surprise to find the government angling to claim what it sees as its fair share in tax revenue. Last spring, the federal government’s budget quietly announced plans to consult on the prospect of levying sales taxes (GST/HST) on digital products such as music downloads or online video services.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the chief argument underlying the call for digital sales taxes is a level playing field. Digital services with a physical presence in Canada, such as Apple iTunes, Amazon, and Shomi charge GST/HST. However, foreign companies without a Canadian presence, most notably Internet video giant Netflix, do not (interestingly, when Netflix is purchased through a third party service such as AppleTV, the tax is applied).

As these services become more popular, proponents of extending the sales tax to foreign digital services argue that the government will start losing significant revenues and Canadian services will be placed at a competitive disadvantage on their home soil. The government consultation led a diverse group of companies and organizations ranging from Rogers Communications to ACTRA, the actors’ union, to argue in favour of extending sales taxes on digital services to foreign companies.

While some of these claims stem from the ongoing fear of marketplace disruption from Netflix, the tax fairness argument is a good one. In fact, many other countries or tax jurisdictions have either instituted sales taxes on foreign digital services or are in the process of doing so. For example, the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina last year passed a resolution forcing debit and credit card issuers to withhold three per cent from payments made to streaming service providers. The levy was specifically targeted at Netflix subscribers in the city and was reportedly designed to make local streaming services more competitive.

Interestingly, technically there is tax equivalency since Canadians are supposed to self-report the applicable sales tax in a self-assessment. In reality though, few are aware of the obligation and even fewer do so. Indeed, with an annual HST bill of $12.46 for a 12-month Netflix subscription, the missing dollars seem insignificant on an individual level.

Those individual bills can add up to millions of dollars, however, which may provide enough incentive for the federal government to conveniently forget the fall promise of “no Netflix tax” (which referred to a fee for creating Canadian content, not sales tax) and establish a system to require foreign digital operators to collect and remit sales tax on their Canadian sales.

Should the government embrace extending sales taxes to foreign services, the big question will lie in the implementation.  The issue of creating a global sales tax system that requires foreign provides to register and remit sales taxes is fraught with complexity.

Registration requirements alone create new costs that some businesses may be unwilling to bear. In fact, some may simply decide to avoid or block the Canadian market altogether, leading to even more services that either decline to sell to Canadians or which increase their prices to account for the regulatory cost burden.

In order to avoid burdening small businesses, countries may set a revenue threshold before registration and collection requirements kick in.  For example, Switzerland requires foreign digital service providers to register and collect an 8 per cent tax provided that they earn more than C$140,000 annually in income.

Even with a threshold to limit collection to larger businesses, the complexity associated with digital sales taxes is difficult to avoid.  Will the collection apply solely to consumer purchases or also business-to-business sales? Will all digital sales – including virtual property in games or cloud computing services – be subject to a levy?

Given the ever-changing digital environment, the digital taxman may be on the way, but identifying what is subject to sales tax will be easier said than done.

The post Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada? appeared first on Michael Geist.

Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

Michael Geist - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 08:21

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 24, 2015 as Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada?

As e-commerce and online digital services command a growing share of the market, it comes as little surprise to find the government angling to claim what it sees as its fair share in tax revenue. Last spring, the federal government’s budget quietly announced plans to consult on the prospect of levying sales taxes (GST/HST) on digital products such as music downloads or online video services.

The chief argument underlying the call for digital sales taxes is a level playing field. Digital services with a physical presence in Canada, such as Apple iTunes, Amazon, and Shomi charge GST/HST. However, foreign companies without a Canadian presence, most notably Internet video giant Netflix, do not (interestingly, when Netflix is purchased through a third party service such as AppleTV, the tax is applied).

As these services become more popular, proponents of extending the sales tax to foreign digital services argue that the government will start losing significant revenues and Canadian services will be placed at a competitive disadvantage on their home soil. The government consultation led a diverse group of companies and organizations ranging from Rogers Communications to ACTRA, the actors’ union, to argue in favour of extending sales taxes on digital services to foreign companies.

While some of these claims stem from the ongoing fear of marketplace disruption from Netflix, the tax fairness argument is a good one. In fact, many other countries or tax jurisdictions have either instituted sales taxes on foreign digital services or are in the process of doing so. For example, the City of Buenos Aires in Argentina last year passed a resolution forcing debit and credit card issuers to withhold three per cent from payments made to streaming service providers. The levy was specifically targeted at Netflix subscribers in the city and was reportedly designed to make local streaming services more competitive.

Interestingly, technically there is tax equivalency since Canadians are supposed to self-report the applicable sales tax in a self-assessment. In reality though, few are aware of the obligation and even fewer do so. Indeed, with an annual HST bill of $12.46 for a 12-month Netflix subscription, the missing dollars seem insignificant on an individual level.

Those individual bills can add up to millions of dollars, however, which may provide enough incentive for the federal government to conveniently forget the fall promise of “no Netflix tax” (which referred to a fee for creating Canadian content, not sales tax) and establish a system to require foreign digital operators to collect and remit sales tax on their Canadian sales.

Should the government embrace extending sales taxes to foreign services, the big question will lie in the implementation.  The issue of creating a global sales tax system that requires foreign provides to register and remit sales taxes is fraught with complexity.

Registration requirements alone create new costs that some businesses may be unwilling to bear. In fact, some may simply decide to avoid or block the Canadian market altogether, leading to even more services that either decline to sell to Canadians or which increase their prices to account for the regulatory cost burden.

In order to avoid burdening small businesses, countries may set a revenue threshold before registration and collection requirements kick in.  For example, Switzerland requires foreign digital service providers to register and collect an 8 per cent tax provided that they earn more than C$140,000 annually in income.

Even with a threshold to limit collection to larger businesses, the complexity associated with digital sales taxes is difficult to avoid.  Will the collection apply solely to consumer purchases or also business-to-business sales? Will all digital sales – including virtual property in games or cloud computing services – be subject to a levy?

Given the ever-changing digital environment, the digital taxman may be on the way, but identifying what is subject to sales tax will be easier said than done.

The post Is the Digital Taxman Headed to Canada? appeared first on Michael Geist.

Stream On?: How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video

Michael Geist - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:43

The misuse of Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has attracted considerable media and political attention over the past week. With revelations that some rights holders are requiring Internet providers to send notifications that misstate the law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations, the government has acknowledged that the notices are misleading and promised to contact providers and rights holders to stop the practice.

While the launch of the copyright system has proven to be an embarrassment for Industry Minister James Moore, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that many Canadians are still left wondering whether the law applies to Internet video streaming, which has emerged as the most popular way to access online video.

In recent years, the use of BitTorrent and similar technologies to engage in unauthorized copying has not disappeared, but network usage indicates its importance is rapidly diminishing. Waterloo-based Sandvine recently reported the BitTorrent now comprises only five per cent of Internet traffic during peak periods in North America (file sharing as a whole takes up seven per cent).  That represents a massive decline since 2008, when file sharing constituted nearly one-third of all peak period network traffic.

The decline largely reflects a shift toward streaming video, which is now the dominant use of network traffic. Netflix alone comprises almost 35 per cent of download network traffic in North America during peak periods with the other top sources of online streaming video – YouTube, Facebook, Amazon Prime, and Hulu – pushing the total to nearly 60 per cent.

The emergence of streaming video raises some interesting legal questions, particularly for users wondering whether the notice-and-notice system might apply to their streaming habits. The answer is complicated by the myriad of online video sources that raise different issues.

The most important sources are the authorized online video services operating in Canada such as Netflix, Shomi, CraveTV, YouTube, and streaming video that comes directly from broadcasters or content creators. These popular services, which may be subscription-based or advertiser-supported, raise few legal concerns since the streaming site has obtained permission to make the content available or made it easy for rights holders to remove it.

Closely related are authorized online video services that do not currently serve the Canadian market. These would include Hulu or Amazon Prime, along with the U.S. version of Netflix. Subscribers can often circumvent geographic blocks by using a “virtual private network” that makes it appear as if they are located in the U.S. Accessing the service may violate the terms of service, but would not result in a legal notification from the rights holder.

The most controversial sources are unauthorized streaming websites that offer free content without permission of the rights holder. Canadian copyright law is well-equipped to stop such unauthorized services if they are located in Canada since the law features provisions that can be used to shut down websites that “enable” infringement.

Those accessing the streams are unlikely to be infringing copyright, however. The law exempts temporary reproductions of copyrighted works if completed for technical reasons. Since most streaming video does not actually involve downloading a copy of the work (it merely creates a temporary copy that cannot be permanently copied), users can legitimately argue that merely watching a non-downloaded stream does not run afoul of the law.

Not only does the law give the viewer some comfort, but enforcement against individuals would in any event be exceptionally difficult. Unlike peer-to-peer downloading, in which users’ Internet addresses are publicly visible, only the online streaming site knows the address of the streaming viewer. That means that rights holders simply do not know who is watching an unauthorized stream and are therefore unable to forward notifications.

While some might see that as an invitation to stream from unauthorized sites, the data suggests that services such as Netflix constitute the overwhelming majority of online streaming activity. Should unauthorized streaming services continue to grow, however, rights holders will likely become more aggressive in targeting the sites themselves using another feature of the 2012 Canadian copyright reform package.

The post Stream On?: How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video appeared first on Michael Geist.

How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video

Michael Geist - Tue, 01/20/2015 - 07:41

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 17, 2015 as How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video

The misuse of Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has attracted considerable media and political attention over the past week. With revelations that some rights holders are requiring Internet providers to send notifications that misstate the law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations, the government has acknowledged that the notices are misleading and promised to contact providers and rights holders to stop the practice.

While the launch of the copyright system has proven to be an embarrassment for Industry Minister James Moore, many Canadians are still left wondering whether the law applies to Internet video streaming, which has emerged as the most popular way to access online video.

In recent years, the use of BitTorrent and similar technologies to engage in unauthorized copying has not disappeared, but network usage indicates its importance is rapidly diminishing. Waterloo-based Sandvine recently reported the BitTorrent now comprises only five per cent of Internet traffic during peak periods in North America (file sharing as a whole takes up seven per cent).  That represents a massive decline since 2008, when file sharing constituted nearly one-third of all peak period network traffic.

The decline largely reflects a shift toward streaming video, which is now the dominant use of network traffic. Netflix alone comprises almost 35 per cent of download network traffic in North America during peak periods with the other top sources of online streaming video – YouTube, Facebook, Amazon Prime, and Hulu – pushing the total to nearly 60 per cent.

The emergence of streaming video raises some interesting legal questions, particularly for users wondering whether the notice-and-notice system might apply to their streaming habits. The answer is complicated by the myriad of online video sources that raise different issues.

The most important sources are the authorized online video services operating in Canada such as Netflix, Shomi, CraveTV, YouTube, and streaming video that comes directly from broadcasters or content creators. These popular services, which may be subscription-based or advertiser-supported, raise few legal concerns since the streaming site has obtained permission to make the content available or made it easy for rights holders to remove it.

Closely related are authorized online video services that do not currently serve the Canadian market. These would include Hulu or Amazon Prime, along with the U.S. version of Netflix. Subscribers can often circumvent geographic blocks by using a “virtual private network” that makes it appear as if they are located in the U.S. Accessing the service may violate the terms of service, but would not result in a legal notification from the rights holder.

The most controversial sources are unauthorized streaming websites that offer free content without permission of the rights holder. Canadian copyright law is well-equipped to stop such unauthorized services if they are located in Canada since the law features provisions that can be used to shut down websites that “enable” infringement.

Those accessing the streams are unlikely to be infringing copyright, however. The law exempts temporary reproductions of copyrighted works if completed for technical reasons. Since most streaming video does not actually involve downloading a copy of the work (it merely creates a temporary copy that cannot be permanently copied), users can legitimately argue that merely watching a non-downloaded stream does not run afoul of the law.

Not only does the law give the viewer some comfort, but enforcement against individuals would in any event be exceptionally difficult. Unlike peer-to-peer downloading, in which users’ Internet addresses are publicly visible, only the online streaming site knows the address of the streaming viewer. That means that rights holders simply do not know who is watching an unauthorized stream and are therefore unable to forward notifications.

While some might see that as an invitation to stream from unauthorized sites, the data suggests that services such as Netflix constitute the overwhelming majority of online streaming activity. Should unauthorized streaming services continue to grow, however, rights holders will likely become more aggressive in targeting the sites themselves using another feature of the 2012 Canadian copyright reform package.


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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post How Canadian Law Views Online Streaming Video appeared first on Michael Geist.

Videotron’s Odd Copyright Notices: No User Rights and Inaccurate Privacy Information

Michael Geist - Wed, 01/14/2015 - 07:56

As the misuse of the Canada’s copyright notice-and-notice system continues to attract attention, Industry Canada has taken the first step to try to alleviate public concern. The department has posted an advisory on the notice-and-notice system which seeks to assuage consumer concern, noting that U.S. copyright penalties do not apply in Canada and that the statutory damages cap for non-commercial infringement is C$5000. It also states:

  • Receiving a notice does not necessarily mean that you have in fact infringed copyright or that you will be sued for copyright infringement.
  • The Notice and Notice regime does not impose any obligations on a subscriber who receives a notice and it does not require the subscriber to contact the copyright owner or the intermediary.

This is important information that provides much needed context for the notices. As I noted last week, some Internet providers are forwarding similar information to their subscribers.

But not all. A reader recently sent me the Videotron copyright notice, which is notable for at least two reasons. First, the notice ignores the existence of user rights such as fair dealing and protection for non-commercial user generated content. While those provisions permit usage of copyright materials without permission, Videotron warns that “generally, you must obtain the permission or rights in order to reproduce any protected material.”

Second, the notice oddly claims to protect the privacy of the rights holder sending the complaint, stating:

Because of privacy concerns, we cannot give any information regarding the plaintiff, as we do not provide any information to the plaintiff about you except if ordered by a court of law. If you want to know who the plaintiff is, you can search on the internet who is the copyright owner of the material referenced in the complaint.

This is bizarre statement since the notice does identify the copyright owner and complainant. In fact, providing the name and address of the complainant is a statutory requirement under the Canadian law. Why Videotron would claim to safeguard such information when it is a legal requirement to disclose it suggests that the company might want to take a closer look at both the law and the notices that it forwards.

A full copy of the Videotron notice (which contains both English and French versions) is posted below.

English Version Follows]

Montréal, le 3 janvier 2015

Objet : Utilisation illicite de votre service Internet

Madame, Monsieur,

Nous avons reçu une plainte qui affirme que des activités associées à votre adresse IP portent atteinte à des droits de propriété intellectuelle d’un tiers.

Nous vous rappelons que la reproduction de matériel protégé par des droits de propriété intellectuelle constitue une atteinte au droit exclusif de son titulaire. Toute contrefaçon pourrait vous exposer à une action en justice de sa part et à une condamnation au paiement de dommages-intérêts.
De façon générale, vous devez obtenir les permissions nécessaires afin de reproduire tout matériel ainsi protégé.

Prenez avis que Vidéotron n’entamera aucune mesure contre vous, cependant si des poursuites devaient être intentées par le plaignant, nous n’aurions d’autre alternative que de vous tenir responsable des dommages subis.
Nous vous prions donc de cesser toute activité pouvant porter atteinte à un droit de propriété intellectuelle d’un tiers.

Voici le matériel reproché selon la plainte:

******
Evidentiary information:
Notice ID : xxxxxxxxxxxx
Recent infringement timestamp : 2015-01-03 T00:XX:0X.00X Infringed work : Horrible Bosses 2 Infringing file name : Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) HDRip HC XViD AC3-RAV3N Infringing file size : 1447083361 Protocol : BitTorrent Infringing IP address : XX.XX.XXX.XXX Infringing DNS name :


Infringing entity : Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Infringing Contact : IP-Echelon – Compliance Infringing Address : 6715 Hollywood Blvd
           Los Angeles CA 90028
           United States of America
Infringing Phone : +1 (310) 606 2747
Infringing Email : copyright@ip-echelon.com
******

Par souci de confidentialité, nous ne divulguons aucune information sur le plaignant, tout comme nous ne divulguons aucune information sur vous au plaignant à moins d’une ordonnance de la cour. Cependant, vous pouvez avoir facilement cette information en effectuant une recherche sur internet afin de retrouver le propriétaire des droits du contenu inclus dans la plainte.

Nous vous remercions à l’avance de votre coopération et vous prions de recevoir l’expression de nos salutations distinguées.


Sécurité Internet
Vidéotron

abuse@videotron.ca

Madam, Sir,

We received a complaint affirming that activities associated with your IP address may infringe intellectual property rights of a third party.

We would like to remind you that the reproduction of protected material constitutes an infringement to the exclusive right of its holder. This behaviour could expose you to legal action from this third party and to a judgment to pay damages. Generally, you must obtain the permission or rights in order to reproduce any protected material.

Please note that Videotron will not take any action against you, but if legal actions were to be brought against you by the plaintiff, we would have no other alternative except than hold you responsible for any damages you may have caused. We thus ask you to cease any activity that may be considered an infringement of a third party’s intellectual property rights.

Here is the infringing material according to the complaint:

******
Evidentiary information:
Notice ID: xxxxxxxxxxxx
Recent infringement timestamp: 2015-01-03 T00:XX:XX.00X Infringed work: Horrible Bosses 2

Infringing file name: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) HDRip HC XViD AC3-RAV3N Infringing file size: 1447083361
Protocol: BitTorrent
Infringing IP address: xx.xxx.xxx.xxx
Infringing DNS name:


Infringing entity : Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Infringing Contact : IP-Echelon – Compliance Infringing Address : 6715 Hollywood Blvd
           Los Angeles CA 90028
           United States of America
Infringing Phone : +1 (310) 606 2747
Infringing Email : copyright@ip-echelon.com
******

Because of privacy concerns, we cannot give any information regarding the plaintiff, as we do not provide any information to the plaintiff about you except if ordered by a court of law. If you want to know who the plaintiff is, you can search on the internet who is the copyright owner of the material referenced in the complaint.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Yours truly,

Internet Security
Vidéotron

abuse@videotron.ca

The post Videotron’s Odd Copyright Notices: No User Rights and Inaccurate Privacy Information appeared first on Michael Geist.

Canada’s Copyright Notice Fiasco: Why Industry Minister James Moore Bears Some Responsibility

Michael Geist - Mon, 01/12/2015 - 08:11

Last week I posted on how Rightscorp, a U.S.-based anti-piracy company, was using Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system to require Internet providers to send threats and misstatements of Canadian law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations. Many Canadians may be frightened into a settlement payment since they will be unaware that some of the legal information in the notice is inaccurate and that Rightscorp and BMG do not know who they are.

The revelations attracted considerable attention (I covered the issue in my weekly technology law column – Toronto Star version, homepage version), with NDP Industry Critic Peggy Nash calling on the government to close the loophole that permits false threats. Nash noted that “Canadians are receiving notices threatening them with fines thirty times higher than the law allows for allegedly downloading copyrighted material. The Conservatives are letting these companies send false legal information to Canadians in order to scare them into paying settlements for movies or music no one has even proved they’ve actually downloaded.”

With the notices escalating as a political issue, Jake Enright, Industry Minister James Moore’s spokesman, said on Friday the government would take action.  Enright said that “these notices are misleading and companies cannot use them to demand money from Canadians”, adding that government officials would be contacting ISPs and rights holders to stop the practice.

While that is encouraging, the reality is that this is a mess of the government’s own making. In fact, according to documents obtained under Access to Information, the government previously dismissed calls for changes to the system from Internet providers. Moreover, Industry Canada officials conducted consultations that were designed to create reforms that might have stopped these practices. Moore decided to forge ahead with the notice-and-notice system without any additional regulations, however, a decision that lies at the heart of the current problem.

According to the internal documents, Industry Canada officials prepared a list of issues with the notice-and-notice system as early as July 2012.  It raised the possibility of establishing a strict template for use in notices. Had the government implemented a template in the regulations, the threatening notices from Rightscorp would be invalid. Moreover, by the fall of 2012, the government prepared a letter to stakeholders and a backgrounder that invoked the regulatory powers to prescribe the form or content of the notice and to decrease the statutory damages for failing to meet the notice-and-notice obligations. Moore announced in June 2014 that the system would be implemented without regulations.

This was not the first time Moore decided against reforms to the notice-and-notice system. Further government documents reveal that Bell Canada recommended reforms in January 2012 (before the bill was passed) that included a removal of a minimum statutory damage for failure to to forward a notice. Had the reform been accepted, the government would now be in a position to recommend that Internet providers not forward the misleading Rightscorp notices without fear of liability.

Not only does Moore bear some responsibility for establishing the notice-and-notice rules without regulations, but there is now no quick fix. The Minister may promise to talk to the ISPs and rights holders, but what is going to say? His own rules require ISPs to forward notifications to subscribers under threat of a minimum of $5000 in statutory damages for failing to do so. His own rules do not include a specific form that could have been used to exclude the misleading assertions on Canadian law and the efforts to scare individuals into paying settlement fees. ISPs have little choice but to forward the notifications and there seems little likelihood that a company like Rightscorp, which is being sued in the U.S. for its practices, will care what a Canadian government minister has to say.

Merely stating that the government disapproves of the misleading practices is not enough. To address the issue, the government should ask the Competition Bureau to conduct an investigation into the misleading conduct. Moreover, Moore should move quickly to implement the very regulations he previously dismissed, which could be used to prohibit the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices and create penalties for those companies that send notices with false or misleading information.

The post Canada’s Copyright Notice Fiasco: Why Industry Minister James Moore Bears Some Responsibility appeared first on Michael Geist.

Canadians Facing Barrage of Misleading Copyright Demand Notices Due Loophole in New Law

Michael Geist - Mon, 01/12/2015 - 08:08

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 10, 2015 as Canadians Face Barrage of Misleading Copyright Demands

Canada’s new copyright notification system – dubbed the “notice-and-notice” approach since it allows rights holders to send notices alleging infringement to Internet providers who are required to forward those notices to subscribers – took effect at the start of the year. The launch attracted considerable attention with many Canadians examining their Internet habits and the state of Canadian copyright law.

Supporters of the approach, which has been used informally for over a decade, argue that it strikes the right balance by educating the public about copyright without the threat of lawsuits or lost Internet access. Internet providers do not disclose their subscribers’ identity and the government has created strict caps on liability for non-commercial infringement, making lawsuits for individual file sharing unlikely.

Yet despite the good intentions, the notice-and-notice system has already been subject to misuse. At least one U.S.-based anti-piracy firm has been using the system to send notifications to subscribers that misstate Canadian law, citing U.S. damage awards and the possibility of Internet termination to sow fear among Canadians so that they pay a settlement fee.

The inclusion of a settlement fee demand within the notices is the consequence of a loophole in the law that arose due to Industry Minister James Moore’s desire to implement the system without accompanying regulations.  On Friday, NDP Industry Critic Peggy Nash called on the government to close the loophole, noting “the Conservatives have a duty to protect the public against companies that try to intimidate Canadians by sending them false legal information. They need to close the loopholes now.”

The government engaged in a lengthy consultation process on notice-and-notice regulations after passing its 2012 copyright reform package. Internet providers argued that the system transferred significant costs to them in order to process notices and that there should be a fee charged to rights holders. Moreover, they noted that the law specified certain requirements for the notices, but did not establish any limitations on the inclusion of additional information nor any penalties for notices that contain false or misleading information.

Most stakeholders expected some regulations, but Moore decided to forge ahead with only the statutory provisions. As a result, companies are free to use the notice system to add information that extends beyond the minimum required by the statute. Although the system is only days old, rights holders have already sent notices that contain inaccurate legal information accompanied by demands for payment.

For example, one notice obtained the Star claims that Canadian subscribers could face liability of up to $150,000 per infringement. In reality, Canadian law limits liability at $5,000 for all infringements. Moreover, the same notice also warns that subscribers could face suspension of their accounts, though there is no such provision under Canadian law.

Relying on the false information regarding Canadian law, the notice then offers to “settle” the dispute if the subscriber pays a fee of $20. The notice does not mention that the rights holder does not know the identity of the subscriber and would need a court order to proceed with potential litigation.

The misuse of the Canadian system could have been avoided with more detailed regulations that featured explicit limits on the content of copyright notices. Without such limitations, rights holders are free to exploit the loophole by using the system in a manner that was never envisioned by the government, sending millions of demand letters at no cost to unsuspecting Canadians.

Given the current situation, Internet service providers should add their own information to the notices, providing their subscribers with an accurate picture of Canadian law and assurances that they have not disclosed their information to the notice sender.  In fact, several providers have started supplementing the notices with additional information to subscribers so that they better understand the context of threats. Interestingly, in the United States, Internet giant Comcast has removed threatening language from notices before forwarding them to subscribers.

Further, Moore should move quickly to implement regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices and create penalties for those companies that send notices with false or misleading information. The federal government regularly cites the notice-and-notice system as a balanced approach, but its fairness is being undermined with Canadians now facing the prospect of a barrage of misleading settlement demands.

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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post Canadians Facing Barrage of Misleading Copyright Demand Notices Due Loophole in New Law appeared first on Michael Geist.

Canadian ISPs Responding to Copyright Notices By Adding Information on Notice System, Privacy Concerns

Michael Geist - Fri, 01/09/2015 - 07:13

The revelations that Rightscorp has been using the new copyright notice-and-notice system to force Internet providers to forward notifications with false copyright law information and demands for payment sparked considerable concern among many Canadian Internet users. In my post on the issue, I suggested two responses.  First, the introduction of government regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices and creating penalties for those companies that send notices with false or misleading information.  Second, Internet service providers adding their own information to the notices, advising their subscribers on the true state of Canadian law and reassuring them that they have not disclosed their personal information to the notice sender.

While there has been no response from the government, some Canadian ISPs are providing their subscribers with much-needed context. For example, TechAeris has posted the message provided by Shaw Cablesystems, which states:

Dear Subscriber

Content owners that hold property rights for material such as movies, music and other content, actively monitor Internet activity to protect their rights. We have been notified by a content owner that your Internet Protocol (IP) address has been associated with suspected copyright infringement. As part of new Canadian copyright legislation*, we are obliged to forward to you the attached copy of the content owner’s notice. We are unaware of the full details and merit of this infringement claim. If you have questions concerning this matter, please contact the content owner directly – contact information is listed in the attached notice.

Infringement of copyright laws may result in the content owner pursuing remedies available under applicable laws to protect its interests. We encourage enabling secured passwords on your home Wi-Fi network if you have one to avoid unauthorized use of your Internet connection.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Please see the link below for more information:

http://balancedcopyright.gc.ca/eic/site/crp-prda.nsf/eng/home
Sincerely,
Shaw Cablesystems G.P.

Start Communications, a London-based ISP, states:

Subject: Copyright Infringement Notice

Re: Account with Start Communications (Account #1234567)

We have received a copyright infringement notice on behalf of Some Copyright Holder Inc., regarding Some Title which was allegedly downloaded from 555.555.555.555 on 2015-01-07 at 12:34:56. As part of Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act which came into effect January 2015, we are legally obligated to pass this attached notice from the copyright holder on to you as well as store the notice for 6 months. To be clear, Start Communications has not provided any of your information to the copyright holder and we do not monitor your activity for any violations.

We have included some reference links about copyright law in Canada, including our legal obligations:

- »news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=858069
- »www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/crp-prda.n···153.html
- »www.balancedcopyright.gc.ca

Sincerely,

Service Desk
Start Communications
519-434-5888 / 1-877-78-START
www.start.ca

TorrentFreak has posted the message from Bell Aliant:

From: Copyright Notification 

Date: Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at XX:XX

Subject: Important notice regarding your Internet activity [******]

The Government of Canada requires by law that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) let their clients know when content owners contact them about possible unauthorized use of the content owner’s material such as illegal downloading of music, videos and games. As a result, we must let you know that we have received the below notification related to your account.

We want to assure you that Bell Aliant as your Internet Service Provider played no part in the identification of possible unauthorized use of content but are only passing on the owner’s message as required by law.

If you have any questions or need clarification please contact the content owner directly. For more information on why you received this notice visit http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?nid=858069 . Thank you for your cooperation.

These are a good start, but TekSavvy’s proposed message provides even more detail and reassures subscribers on the status of their personal information.  Yesterday, TekSavvy’s CEO Marc Gaudrault posted a sample message the company is considering including with the notice:

Subject: Notice of claimed copyright infringement

Body:

Hello,

TekSavvy has received what the Copyright Act calls a “notice of claimed infringement”. It listed an IP address and time. Our systems indicate that the IP address listed in the notice was likely assigned to your account at the specified time. We are therefore legally required to forward the notice to you. The notice is reproduced, unaltered, below.

First, though, there are some things you should know:

(a) We haven’t told the sender who you are. Your privacy is paramount to us. We don’t track, or know, what you do. We do know what IP address we assigned to you within the last 30 days. But we don’t provide personal information like that to anyone unless a court orders us to — and we have not done so here. The notice was simply received by us, and we have forwarded it electronically on to you.

(b) We are an intermediary that is required to forward this notice to you. We do not, and cannot, verify its contents or its sender. However, a private party’s notice does not mean there has been any legal ruling. Only a court can do that.

(c) It is good practice to make sure you secure your account. Your wireless router should be password-protected; the password should be changed regularly; and those who have the password should maintain good virus protection. Your MyAccount allows you to check your bandwidth usage: do so regularly, and make sure what is happening and what you think is happening line up.

(d) We retain IP address information for 30 days. If your modem has not been powered off during that period, then we may have IP address information going back to the last time you did. In addition to requiring us to forward this notice, the Copyright Act also requires us to retain the records matching the IP address and time to your account for six months. If the people who sent the notice apply to a court, they can require us to hold it for longer.

We have provided some links below. The notice, which we are required to forward unaltered, follows.

Copyright Act (see, especially, sections 41.25-26):
»laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/

TekSavvy:
»teksavvy.com/en/why-teksavvy/pol···y-policy
»myaccount.teksavvy.com/

Automated translation (you may need to copy and paste):
»translate.google.com/?hl=fr
»www.bing.com/translator/

— Forwarded Notice of Infringement follows:

*snip this is where their notice is added*

This is precisely the kind of the information that ISPs should be providing their subscribers, though action to stop misleading or inaccurate notices along with settlement demands in notices is still needed. It remains to be seen how some of the other major ISPs handle the notice-and-notice issue.

The post Canadian ISPs Responding to Copyright Notices By Adding Information on Notice System, Privacy Concerns appeared first on Michael Geist.

Rightscorp and BMG Exploiting Copyright Notice-and-Notice System: Citing False Legal Information in Payment Demands

Michael Geist - Thu, 01/08/2015 - 08:16

Canada’s new copyright notice-and-notice system has been in place for less than a week, but rights holders are already exploiting a loophole to send demands for payment citing false legal information. Earlier this week, a Canadian ISP forwarded to me a sample notice it received from Rightscorp on behalf of BMG Rights Management. The notice, which is posted below with identifying information removed, must be forwarded to the subscriber or the ISP faces the possibility of statutory damages of between $5 – 10,000. Rightscorp announced that it was entering the Canadian market last year, so its participation in the notice-and-notice system is not a surprise. What is surprising is that the company has brought its model of issuing demands for payments to Canada by warning of U.S. damage awards and Internet termination in order to stoke fear among Canadians that they could face massive liability if they refuse to pay.

The notice falsely warns that the recipient could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement when the reality is that Canadian law caps liability for non-commercial infringement at $5,000 for all infringements. The notice also warns that the user’s Internet service could be suspended, yet there is no such provision under Canadian law. Moreover, given the existence of the private copying system (which features levies on blank media such as CDs), some experts argue that certain personal music downloads may qualify as private copying and therefore be legal in Canada (Howard Knopf explains the applicability when the music is copied to “audio recording medium”).

In addition to misstating Canadian law, the notice is instructive for what it does not say. While a recipient might fear a lawsuit with huge liability, there is very little likelihood of a lawsuit given that Rightscorp and BMG do not have the personal information of the subscriber. To obtain that information, they would need a court order, which can be a very expensive proposition. Moreover, this is merely an allegation that would need to be proven in court (assuming the rights holder is able to obtain a court order for the subscriber information).

The full notice states:

Subject: Unauthorized Use of Copyrights RE:
Date: Fri,  2 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0600 (CST)
From: DMCA@DigitalRightsCorp.com
To: abuse@isp.com

**NOTE TO ISP: PLEASE FORWARD THE ENTIRE NOTICE***

Re: Unauthorized Use of Copyrights Owned Exclusively by BMG Rights Management (US) LLC

Reference#: 

Dear Sir or Madam:

Your ISP has forwarded you this notice.
Your ISP account has been used to download, upload or offer for upload copyrighted content in a manner that infringes on the rights of the copyright owner.
Your ISP service could be suspended if this matter is not resolved.
You could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.

The file BMG Artist – BMG Song.mp3  was infringed upon by a computer at IP Address 192.—.—.— on 2015-01-02 00:00:00.0 GMT.

We represent the copyright owner.
This notice is an offer of settlement.
If you follow the link below and login to the Rightscorp, Inc. automated settlement system, for $20 per infringement, you will receive a legal release from the copyright owner.

Follow this link or copy and paste into your browser:
https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/

Rightscorp, Inc. represents the following ‘copyright owner(s)’ BMG Rights Management (US) LLC (‘BMG’). BMG is the exclusive owners of copyrights for BMG Artist musical
compositions, including the musical compositions listed below. It has come to our attention that ISP Internet Services Provider is the service provider for the IP address listed below, from which unauthorized copying and distribution (downloading, uploading, file serving, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of BMG’s exclusive copyrights listed below is taking place.

This unauthorized copying and/or distribution constitutes copyright infringement under the U.S. Copyright Act. Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 512(c), this letter serves as actual notice of infringement. We hereby demand you immediately and permanently cease and desist the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to downloading, uploading, file sharing, file ‘swapping’ or other similar activities) of recordings of  BMG Artist compositions, including but not limited to those items listed in this correspondence.

BMG will pursue every available remedy including injunctions and recovery of attorney’s fees, costs and any and all other damages which are incurred by BMG as a result of any action that is commenced against you. Nothing contained or omitted from this letter is, or shall be deemed to be either a full statement of the facts or applicable law, an admission of any fact, or a waiver or limitation of any of BMG’s rights or remedies, all of which are specifically retained and reserved. The information in this notification is accurate.

We have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of herein is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or by operation of law. I swear, under penalty of perjury, that I am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of the exclusive rights that have been infringed. While BMG is entitled to monetary damages from the infringing party under 17 U.S.C. Section 504, The BMG believes that it may be expeditious to settle this matter without the need of costly and time-consuming litigation.

In order to help you avoid further legal action from BMG, we have been authorized to offer a settlement solution that we believe is reasonable for everyone. To access this settlement offer, please copy and paste the URL below into a browser and follow the instructions for the settlement offer:

https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle/

Very truly yours,

Christopher Sabec
CEO
Rightscorp, Inc.
3100 Donald Douglas Loop, North,
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Telephone: (310) 751-7510

** For any correspondence regarding this case, please send your emails to DMCA@DigitalRightsCorp.com and refer to Notice ID:

If you need immediate assistance or if you have general questions please call the number listed above.

Infringement Source: Torrent
Timestamp: 2015-01-02 00:00:00.0 GMT
Infringers IP Address: 192.—.—.—-
Infringers Port: 12345
Listing of infringement(s) (Title/Filename/Timestamp/Hash): BMG Artist
BMG Song | BMG Artist – BMG Song.mp3 | 2015-01-02 00:00:00.0 | SHA1 |

In a nutshell, Rightscorp and BMG are using the notice-and-notice system to require ISPs to send threats and misstatements of Canadian law in an effort to extract payments based on unproven infringement allegations. Many Canadians may be frightened into a settlement payment since they will be unaware that some of the legal information in the notice is inaccurate and that Rightscorp and BMG do not know who they are.

The government could have avoided this misuse of the system had it issued regulations specifying the precise content of the notices. Despite months of discussions on the regulations, Industry Minister James Moore abandoned the process, implementing the system with no additional information requirements and no sanctions for the inclusion of false or misleading information. The government’s backgrounder says that the law “sets clear rules on the content of these notices”, however, it does not restrict the ability for rights holders to include information that goes beyond the statutory minimum. Rightscorp and BMG are exploiting this loophole to send demands for payment accompanied by false information on Canadian law.

These actions necessitate two responses. First, Internet service providers should add their own information to the notices, advising their subscribers on the true state of Canadian law and reassuring them that they have not disclosed their personal information to the notice sender. The law does not prohibit ISPs from adding additional information within the forwarded notice and they should begin doing so immediately.

Second, the government should quickly implement regulations prohibiting the inclusion of settlement demands within the notices and creating penalties for those companies that send notices with false or misleading information. The Canadian government has frequently defended the notice-and-notice system as a balanced approach, but its fairness is being undermined with Canadians now facing the prospect of misleading settlement demands.

The post Rightscorp and BMG Exploiting Copyright Notice-and-Notice System: Citing False Legal Information in Payment Demands appeared first on Michael Geist.

Glass Houses and Throwing Stones: Why a Canadian Anti-Piracy Firm May Need to Send Itself Copyright Infringement Notices

Michael Geist - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 07:47

Canipre, a Montreal-based intellectual property enforcement firm, yesterday issued a press release announcing an infringement monitoring program designed to take advantage of the new copyright notice-and-notice system. The release notes that the service detects online infringement and sends notifications alleging infringement to Canadian Internet providers, who must forward the notifications to their subscribers. The company has been involved in the Voltage Pictures – TekSavvy lawsuit and it cites that case as evidence of the effectiveness of its services.

Yet what Canipre does not say is that a blog associated with the company may have been engaged in copyright infringement for many months. The blog – copyrightenforcement.ca – is run by Barry Logan, the company’s Managing Director, Operations (I received an email from Mr. Logan last year that listed the site as his blog address). In addition to posting releases from Canipre and information about the TekSavvy case, the site has posted dozens of full-text articles from media organizations around the world.

For example, last week it posted the full text of a 1200 word article on TV piracy from the Wire Report, an Ottawa-based telecom publication. The article resides behind a paywall limited to subscribers and is listed as “exclusive content.” In fact, reposting full-text articles from other sources is a regular occurrence on the site. Posts in December feature articles from the Huffington Post Canada, Business Insider, and CNET.  Earlier posts include full-text articles from the Hollywood Reporter, StreamDaily, Reuters, the Canadian Press, Global News, Vancouver Sun, and the National Post. Some of the posts include articles that strip out reference to the author (Chronicle Herald, CBC) and others include no attribution whatsoever. The site also uses photos from the articles, often without attribution.

While the use of clips of articles will often qualify as fair dealing and even full text of articles can be fair dealing in some circumstances, posting full text articles without attribution or including subscription-only information that is not otherwise available, is much more likely to be viewed as infringement if posted without authorization. Canipre would likely offer its services to the media companies whose work is affected, yet it might want to take a closer look at its internal conduct before throwing stones in the form of thousands of notices alleging infringement.

The post Glass Houses and Throwing Stones: Why a Canadian Anti-Piracy Firm May Need to Send Itself Copyright Infringement Notices appeared first on Michael Geist.

New Year Offers Chance to Hit Reset Button on Digital Policies

Michael Geist - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 07:26

A new year is traditionally the time to refresh and renew personal goals. The same is true in the digital policy realm, where despite the conclusion of lawful access, anti-counterfeiting, and anti-spam rules in 2014, many other issues in Canada remain unresolved, unaddressed, or stalled in the middle of development.

With a new year – one that will feature a federal election in which all parties will be asked to articulate their vision of Canada’s digital future – there is a chance to hit the policy reset button on issues that have lagged or veered off course.

There is no shortage of possibilities, but my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the following four concerns should be top of mind for policy makers and politicians:

1.    The centerpiece of any national digital strategy is connectivity since ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, competitive high-speed Internet services is a basic pre-requisite for most other issues. To the disappointment of many, last year’s long overdue digital strategy included a connectivity target that ranked among the weakest in the developed world.

Its speed target of 5 Mbps is not even considered high-speed in some countries and the government’s goal of 98 per cent access means that thousands of Canadians will still not even have access to that speed. With the United States recently setting a 10 Mbps target, Canada should rethink its approach by at least matching the U.S. benchmark and setting a clear aim of 100 per cent coverage.

2.    The Digital Privacy Act, which was introduced in the Senate last year as Bill S-4, was supposed to be an easy sell and policy win for a government focused on consumer issues. It includes long overdue security breach disclosure requirements that will force companies to notify Canadians when their personal information has been placed at risk.

However, the dominant story of the bill has been the unnecessary expansion of voluntary disclosure of personal information at the very time that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Canadians have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such information. The government’s weak attempts to justify the changes have not convinced their newly-appointed federal privacy commissioner and with committee hearings likely to start in February, Industry Minister James Moore should use the opportunity to scrap the change.

3.    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will take centre stage early in the new year as it releases the results from several hearings, most notably the “TalkTV” consultation that will undoubtedly include mandatory “pick-and-pay” television packages for consumers. Yet the CRTC’s work on both broadcast and telecom regulation has been undermined by an outdated legal framework that artificially separates the two fields that are now inextricably linked.

As a regulator, the CRTC is not in a position to fix a broken system. Rather, it falls to the government to begin the process of creating a single communications law that better reflects modern realities. While that reform won’t happen before the fall election, it should begin to lay the groundwork for legislative reform with a comprehensive review of the current system and alternatives for change.

4.    Treasury Board President Tony Clement has been a vocal advocate of open government, last year releasing an updated Action Plan on Open Government. Yet the framework has rightly come under criticism for failing to address the access to information system, which is in desperate need of both financial support and legislative reform.

As the single most important part of any open government policy, ignoring access to information consigns the entire effort to failure. While Clement now says there is insufficient time for a comprehensive review before the fall election, there is no need to wait to inject the system with much needed financial stability and to establish timelines for a legal overhaul.

The post New Year Offers Chance to Hit Reset Button on Digital Policies appeared first on Michael Geist.

New Year Offers Chance to Hit Reset Button on Digital Policies

Michael Geist - Mon, 01/05/2015 - 07:24

Appeared in the Toronto Star on January 3, 2015 as Time to Hit the Reset Button on Digital Policies

A new year is traditionally the time to refresh and renew personal goals. The same is true in the digital policy realm, where despite the conclusion of lawful access, anti-counterfeiting, and anti-spam rules in 2014, many other issues in Canada remain unresolved, unaddressed, or stalled in the middle of development.

With a new year – one that will feature a federal election in which all parties will be asked to articulate their vision of Canada’s digital future – there is a chance to hit the policy reset button on issues that have lagged or veered off course.

There is no shortage of possibilities, but the following four concerns should be top of mind for policy makers and politicians:

1.    The centerpiece of any national digital strategy is connectivity since ensuring that all Canadians have access to affordable, competitive high-speed Internet services is a basic pre-requisite for most other issues. To the disappointment of many, last year’s long overdue digital strategy included a connectivity target that ranked among the weakest in the developed world.

Its speed target of 5 Mbps is not even considered high-speed in some countries and the government’s goal of 98 per cent access means that thousands of Canadians will still not even have access to that speed. With the United States recently setting a 10 Mbps target, Canada should rethink its approach by at least matching the U.S. benchmark and setting a clear aim of 100 per cent coverage.

2.    The Digital Privacy Act, which was introduced in the Senate last year as Bill S-4, was supposed to be an easy sell and policy win for a government focused on consumer issues. It includes long overdue security breach disclosure requirements that will force companies to notify Canadians when their personal information has been placed at risk.

However, the dominant story of the bill has been the unnecessary expansion of voluntary disclosure of personal information at the very time that the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Canadians have a reasonable expectation of privacy in such information. The government’s weak attempts to justify the changes have not convinced their newly-appointed federal privacy commissioner and with committee hearings likely to start in February, Industry Minister James Moore should use the opportunity to scrap the change.

3.    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will take centre stage early in the new year as it releases the results from several hearings, most notably the “TalkTV” consultation that will undoubtedly include mandatory “pick-and-pay” television packages for consumers. Yet the CRTC’s work on both broadcast and telecom regulation has been undermined by an outdated legal framework that artificially separates the two fields that are now inextricably linked.

As a regulator, the CRTC is not in a position to fix a broken system. Rather, it falls to the government to begin the process of creating a single communications law that better reflects modern realities. While that reform won’t happen before the fall election, it should begin to lay the groundwork for legislative reform with a comprehensive review of the current system and alternatives for change.

4.    Treasury Board President Tony Clement has been a vocal advocate of open government, last year releasing an updated Action Plan on Open Government. Yet the framework has rightly come under criticism for failing to address the access to information system, which is in desperate need of both financial support and legislative reform.

As the single most important part of any open government policy, ignoring access to information consigns the entire effort to failure. While Clement now says there is insufficient time for a comprehensive review before the fall election, there is no need to wait to inject the system with much needed financial stability and to establish timelines for a legal overhaul.

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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post New Year Offers Chance to Hit Reset Button on Digital Policies appeared first on Michael Geist.

Tom’s Best of 2014 Music Mix!

ThomasPurves.com - Tue, 12/30/2014 - 22:53


It’s back! After a wee hiatus of 24 months, I just couldn’t resist posting another year end music mix. Soooo much good music this year. I’ve had this mix on repeat for last week straight.

1   3:16   Archie, Marry Me   Alvvays   2   4:16   Name on a Matchbook   Springtime Carnivore   3   4:03   Carry on Phenomenon   Kishi Bashi   4   2:59   Summer Dress   July Talk   5   3:46   Trainwreck 1979   Death From Above 1979   6   3:06   Big Shot   The Pack a.d.   7   2:56   Brill Bruisers   The New Pornographers   8   3:56   Can’t Do Without You   Caribou   9   4:31   Rescue, Mister   TR/ST   10   4:12   Habitat   Austra – Habitat   11   3:03   Happy Idiot   TV On The Radio   12   3:18   Artifice   SOHN   13   4:43   Awake   Tycho   14   4:29   Coffee   Sylvan Esso   15   5:00   Look Away   Lo-Fang   16   3:36   Every Other Freckle   alt-J   17   3:51   Collectors   Springtime Carnivore  

So this year, I don’t have a big-ass mp3 download for you. You know, that felt like a lot of work to track down all the itsy bitsy individual tracks and, lets be honest, does anyone even remember how to mp3 anymore? If not vinyl, streaming is the only way to go these days.

Enjoy!

Rdio Whole Playlist Link
Spotify Whole playlist link
(Partially available, 15 of 17) YouTube Playlist

I’m not normally a music video guy but, featured above, the ridiculously adorable July Talk video (track 4 on the list). Love it.

oh, also embed Spotify playlist right here:

The Letters of the Law: 2014 in Tech Law and Policy

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/29/2014 - 15:08

With revelations about millions of warrantless requests for Internet and telecom subscriber information and heated battles over the potential regulation of Netflix leading the way, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) offers a look back at 2014 from A to Z:

A is for Amanda Todd, the cyber-bullying victim whose name was regularly invoked by the government to support Bill C-13, its lawful access/cyberbullying bill. The bill passed despite Amanda’s mother Carol raising privacy concerns and not receiving an invitation to appear before the Senate committee studying it.

B is for Bell’s targeted advertising program that involves the use of consumer location and browsing habits. The program was the target of multiple complaints to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

C is for CASL, Canada’s anti-spam law, which took effect in July and generated considerable panic among many Canadian businesses.

D is for Digital Canada 150, the long awaited digital strategy released in April by Industry Minister James Moore.

E is for Equustek Solutions, a British Columbia based company that obtained a controversial court order requiring Google to remove a website from its global index.

F is for Fearon, the Supreme Court of Canada decision which affirmed that police can search a cellphone without a warrant during an arrest.

G is for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover, whose leaked proposal to create a new copyright exception for political advertising sparked heated debate.

H is for the Children’s Hospital Of Eastern Ontario, which filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of patents based on human genes.

I is for in-transit shipments, which were excluded from Bill C-8, Canada’s anti-counterfeiting legislation that received royal assent late in the year.

J is for Judge Alain Breault, a Quebec judge who awarded a woman damages after she claimed that Google was slow to blur a revealing picture of her posted on the Google Street View service.

K is for Ben Klass, a communications policy researcher, whose net neutrality complaint over mobile video services led companies such as Rogers and Videotron to alter their service offerings.

L is for language laws, whose application to the Internet by Quebec authorities led some global e-commerce sites to stop serving the Quebec market.

M is for the Marrakesh Copyright Treaty for the Blind, which Canada surprisingly did not sign after playing a key role during the treaty negotiations.

N is for Netflix, which engaged in a high profile battle with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over whether it was subject to the regulator’s broadcast jurisdiction.

O is for the revelation that there were at least one point two million annual requests for subscriber information by law enforcement and government departments in 2011.

P is for Pandora, the music streaming service that may now enter the Canadian market after new royalty rates were established by the Copyright Board of Canada.

Q is for Quebec.com, the domain name that the Government of Quebec failed to obtain after filing a complaint.

R is for Rogers, which became the first major Canadian telecom company to release a transparency report on its subscriber information disclosure practices.

S is for the landmark Spencer Supreme Court of Canada decision, which ruled that Internet users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.

T is for Daniel Therrien, the new Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who surprised observers by immediately criticizing the government’s proposed lawful access legislation.

U is for Uber, the popular app-based car service, which faced regulatory battles in cities across the country.

V is for Voltage Pictures, which won a court order to obtain information on thousands of alleged file sharers.

W is for wireless competition, an ongoing focal point of government policy.

X is for the redacted information that frequently accompanies access to information request records. The liberal use of exemptions was one of the issues in the spotlight as part of debates over an under-funded system on the brink of collapse.

Y is for the Law Society of Yukon, one of dozens of “investigative bodies” to which organizations may voluntarily disclose personal information without a warrant under the current law. The government pointed to the complexity of the investigative bodies system as a justification for expanding warrantless voluntary disclosure in Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act.

Z is for Zithromax, the brand name for azithromycin, one of the world’s leading antibiotics. The prospect of increased drug costs was one of the most contentious aspects of the Canada – European Trade Agreement, which concluded this year.

The post The Letters of the Law: 2014 in Tech Law and Policy appeared first on Michael Geist.

The Letters of the Law: 2014 in Tech Law and Policy

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/29/2014 - 14:39

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 27, 2014 as Letters of the Law: The Year in Tech Policy

With revelations about millions of warrantless requests for Internet and telecom subscriber information and heated battles over the potential regulation of Netflix leading the way, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. A look back at 2014 from A to Z:

A is for Amanda Todd, the cyber-bullying victim whose name was regularly invoked by the government to support Bill C-13, its lawful access/cyberbullying bill. The bill passed despite Amanda’s mother Carol raising privacy concerns and not receiving an invitation to appear before the Senate committee studying it.

B is for Bell’s targeted advertising program that involves the use of consumer location and browsing habits. The program was the target of multiple complaints to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

C is for CASL, Canada’s anti-spam law, which took effect in July and generated considerable panic among many Canadian businesses.

D is for Digital Canada 150, the long awaited digital strategy released in April by Industry Minister James Moore.

E is for Equustek Solutions, a British Columbia based company that obtained a controversial court order requiring Google to remove a website from its global index.

F is for Fearon, the Supreme Court of Canada decision which affirmed that police can search a cellphone without a warrant during an arrest.

G is for Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover, whose leaked proposal to create a new copyright exception for political advertising sparked heated debate.

H is for the Children’s Hospital Of Eastern Ontario, which filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of patents based on human genes.

I is for in-transit shipments, which were excluded from Bill C-8, Canada’s anti-counterfeiting legislation that received royal assent late in the year.

J is for Judge Alain Breault, a Quebec judge who awarded a woman damages after she claimed that Google was slow to blur a revealing picture of her posted on the Google Street View service.

K is for Ben Klass, a communications policy researcher, whose net neutrality complaint over mobile video services led companies such as Rogers and Videotron to alter their service offerings.

L is for language laws, whose application to the Internet by Quebec authorities led some global e-commerce sites to stop serving the Quebec market.

M is for the Marrakesh Copyright Treaty for the Blind, which Canada surprisingly did not sign after playing a key role during the treaty negotiations.

N is for Netflix, which engaged in a high profile battle with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission over whether it was subject to the regulator’s broadcast jurisdiction.

O is for the revelation that there were at least one point two million annual requests for subscriber information by law enforcement and government departments in 2011.

P is for Pandora, the music streaming service that may now enter the Canadian market after new royalty rates were established by the Copyright Board of Canada.

Q is for Quebec.com, the domain name that the Government of Quebec failed to obtain after filing a complaint.

R is for Rogers, which became the first major Canadian telecom company to release a transparency report on its subscriber information disclosure practices.

S is for the landmark Spencer Supreme Court of Canada decision, which ruled that Internet users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.

T is for Daniel Therrien, the new Privacy Commissioner of Canada, who surprised observers by immediately criticizing the government’s proposed lawful access legislation.

U is for Uber, the popular app-based car service, which faced regulatory battles in cities across the country.

V is for Voltage Pictures, which won a court order to obtain information on thousands of alleged file sharers.

W is for wireless competition, an ongoing focal point of government policy.

X is for the redacted information that frequently accompanies access to information request records. The liberal use of exemptions was one of the issues in the spotlight as part of debates over an under-funded system on the brink of collapse.

Y is for the Law Society of Yukon, one of dozens of “investigative bodies” to which organizations may voluntarily disclose personal information without a warrant under the current law. The government pointed to the complexity of the investigative bodies system as a justification for expanding warrantless voluntary disclosure in Bill S-4, the Digital Privacy Act.

Z is for Zithromax, the brand name for azithromycin, one of the world’s leading antibiotics. The prospect of increased drug costs was one of the most contentious aspects of the Canada – European Trade Agreement, which concluded this year.

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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post The Letters of the Law: 2014 in Tech Law and Policy appeared first on Michael Geist.

Notice the Difference? New Canadian Internet Copyright Rules for ISPs Set to Launch

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/22/2014 - 06:45

The longstanding debate over how Internet providers should respond to allegations of copyright infringement by their subscribers was resolved in Canada several years ago with the adoption of a “notice and notice” system. Unlike countries that require content takedowns without court oversight or even contemplate cutting off subscriber Internet access, the Canadian approach, which has operated informally for over a decade but will kick in as the law in 2015, seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users, and the legal obligations of Internet providers.

The result is a system that has proven effective in raising public awareness about copyright, while safeguarding the identities of Internet subscribers, providing legal certainty to Internet providers, and leaving potential legal actions to the courts.

Under the notice-and-notice system, copyright owners are entitled to send infringement notices to Internet providers, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The notices must include details on the sender, the copyright works and the alleged infringement. If the Internet provider fails to forward the notification, it must explain why or face the prospect of damages that run as high as $10,000. Internet providers must also retain information on the subscriber for six months (or 12 months if court proceedings are launched).

For Internet providers, the system creates significant costs for processing and forwarding notices. However, assuming they meet their obligations of forwarding the notice, the law grants them a legal “safe harbour” that removes potential liability for actions of their subscribers.

There are important benefits for Internet users as well. First, unlike the content takedown or access cut-off systems, the Canadian notice approach does not feature any legal penalties. The notices do not create any fines or damages, but rather are designed as educational tools to raise awareness of infringement allegations.

Second, the personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner. When the Internet provider forwards the copyright notice, only they know the identity of the subscriber and that information is not disclosed to any third party.

If the copyright owner is unhappy with only sending a notification and wants to proceed with further legal action, they must go to court to obtain an order requiring the Internet provider to reveal the identity of the subscriber. Canadian courts have established strict rules and limitations around such disclosures.

Moreover, the law now also limits potential liability for Internet users for non-commercial infringement, capping damages at C$5,000 for all infringements. While that is not insignificant, it does mean that threats of tens of thousands of dollars in liability for unauthorized downloading are unfounded.

The Canadian notice-and-notice system takes official effect on January 2nd, but it has been used on an informal basis for many years. Indeed, the evidence has consistently demonstrated that notifications work. For example, Rogers told a House of Commons committee in 2011 that 67 per cent of notice recipients do not repeat infringe after one notice and 89 per cent cease allegedly infringing activity after a second notice.

Those numbers are very similar to 2010 data from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, which found that 71 per cent of notice recipients did not place an infringing file back on BitTorrent systems. Similarly, the Business Software Association told the CBC in 2006 that the notice-and-notice approach has “been most effective.”

So are there reasons for concern with the new system?

There are fears that Internet providers will be inundated with notices, particularly since the government decided against establishing a fee for forwarding them. That could lead to increased costs for consumers. Moreover, the government also declined to specify the precise content of the notices, leading to concerns that some copyright holders may include threats to sue alongside dubious demands to settle the allegations for thousands of dollars.

Should these concerns materialize, the government will need to revisit some of the notice-and-notice regulations. In the meantime, however, it rightly points to the system as a “made-in-Canada” solution that is likely to be emulated by countries around the world.

The post Notice the Difference? New Canadian Internet Copyright Rules for ISPs Set to Launch appeared first on Michael Geist.

Notice the Difference? New Canadian Internet Copyright Rules Set to Launch

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/22/2014 - 06:42

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 20, 2014 as New Internet copyright rules to launch

The longstanding debate over how Internet providers should respond to allegations of copyright infringement by their subscribers was resolved in Canada several years ago with the adoption of a “notice and notice” system. Unlike countries that require content takedowns without court oversight or even contemplate cutting off subscriber Internet access, the Canadian approach, which has operated informally for over a decade but will kick in as the law in 2015, seeks to balance the interests of copyright holders, the privacy rights of Internet users, and the legal obligations of Internet providers.

The result is a system that has proven effective in raising public awareness about copyright, while safeguarding the identities of Internet subscribers, providing legal certainty to Internet providers, and leaving potential legal actions to the courts.

Under the notice-and-notice system, copyright owners are entitled to send infringement notices to Internet providers, who are legally required to forward the notifications to their subscribers. The notices must include details on the sender, the copyright works and the alleged infringement. If the Internet provider fails to forward the notification, it must explain why or face the prospect of damages that run as high as $10,000. Internet providers must also retain information on the subscriber for six months (or 12 months if court proceedings are launched).

For Internet providers, the system creates significant costs for processing and forwarding notices. However, assuming they meet their obligations of forwarding the notice, the law grants them a legal “safe harbour” that removes potential liability for actions of their subscribers.

There are important benefits for Internet users as well. First, unlike the content takedown or access cut-off systems, the Canadian notice approach does not feature any legal penalties. The notices do not create any fines or damages, but rather are designed as educational tools to raise awareness of infringement allegations.

Second, the personal information of subscribers is not disclosed to the copyright owner. When the Internet provider forwards the copyright notice, only they know the identity of the subscriber and that information is not disclosed to any third party.

If the copyright owner is unhappy with only sending a notification and wants to proceed with further legal action, they must go to court to obtain an order requiring the Internet provider to reveal the identity of the subscriber. Canadian courts have established strict rules and limitations around such disclosures.

Moreover, the law now also limits potential liability for Internet users for non-commercial infringement, capping damages at C$5,000 for all infringements. While that is not insignificant, it does mean that threats of tens of thousands of dollars in liability for unauthorized downloading are unfounded.

The Canadian notice-and-notice system takes official effect on January 2nd, but it has been used on an informal basis for many years. Indeed, the evidence has consistently demonstrated that notifications work. For example, Rogers told a House of Commons committee in 2011 that 67 per cent of notice recipients do not repeat infringe after one notice and 89 per cent cease allegedly infringing activity after a second notice.

Those numbers are very similar to 2010 data from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, which found that 71 per cent of notice recipients did not place an infringing file back on BitTorrent systems. Similarly, the Business Software Association told the CBC in 2006 that the notice-and-notice approach has “been most effective.”

So are there reasons for concern with the new system?

There are fears that Internet providers will be inundated with notices, particularly since the government decided against establishing a fee for forwarding them. That could lead to increased costs for consumers. Moreover, the government also declined to specify the precise content of the notices, leading to concerns that some copyright holders may include threats to sue alongside dubious demands to settle the allegations for thousands of dollars.

Should these concerns materialize, the government will need to revisit some of the notice-and-notice regulations. In the meantime, however, it rightly points to the system as a “made-in-Canada” solution that is likely to be emulated by countries around the world.

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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post Notice the Difference? New Canadian Internet Copyright Rules Set to Launch appeared first on Michael Geist.

Government Documents Reveal Canadian Telcos Envision Surveillance-Ready Networks

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 07:57

After years of failed bills, public debate, and considerable controversy, lawful access legislation received royal assent last week. Public Safety Minister Peter MacKay’s Bill C-13 lumped together measures designed to combat cyberbullying with a series of new warrants to enhance police investigative powers, generating criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, civil liberties groups, and some prominent victims rights advocates. They argued that the government should have created cyberbullying safeguards without sacrificing privacy.

While the bill would have benefited from some amendments, it remains a far cry from earlier versions that featured mandatory personal information disclosure without court oversight and required Internet providers to install extensive surveillance and interception capabilities within their networks.

The mandatory disclosure of subscriber information rules, which figured prominently in earlier lawful access bills, were gradually reduced in scope and ultimately eliminated altogether. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court ruling raised doubt about the constitutionality of the provisions.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the surveillance and interception capability issue is more complicated, however. The prospect of a total surveillance infrastructure within Canadian Internet networks generated an enormous outcry when proposed in Vic Toews’ 2012 lawful access bill.  Not only did the bill specify the precise required surveillance and interception capabilities, but it also would have established extensive Internet provider reporting requirements and envisioned partial payments by government to help offset the costs for smaller Internet providers.

Those provisions were dropped from Bill C-13, yet according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, both Internet providers and the government have been debating a “Plan B” on how to ensure that there are surveillance and interception capable networks.

Perhaps the most notable revelation is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.

In light of the standardization of the interception capabilities, the memo notes that the Canadian providers argue that “the telecommunications market will soon shift to a point where interception capability will simply become a standard component of available equipment, and that technical changes in the way communications actually travel on communications networks will make it even easier to intercept communications.”

In other words, Canadian telecom providers are telling the government there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality since they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default.

While Canadian network providers claimed that interception and surveillance capabilities would become a standard feature in their networks, government officials were not entirely convinced. Department officials argued that interception is a “complex process” and that legislative requirements were preferred.

In the absence of mandated surveillance and interception capabilities, another internal government memorandum emphasized the value of incorporating the technologies in wireless networks through spectrum licence requirements. The memorandum notes that Public Safety works with Industry Canada in developing those requirements and deals directly with providers to ensure that they meet the necessary standards.

The department’s stated goal is to “ensure that the lawful interception capabilities of public safety agencies are maximized within the existing legal framework.”  In meeting its goal, the memorandum notes that it will work directly with the wireless providers to assess compliance levels and gain “valuable information on the interception capability currently available.”

The latest chapter of lawful access legislation may have come to a close, but the internal government documents suggest that the story is not yet over. With telecom providers suggesting that surveillance-capable networks are inevitable and government officials seeking alternatives to mandatory interception capabilities, the reality is that some of the issues at the heart of lawful access remain very much in play.

The post Government Documents Reveal Canadian Telcos Envision Surveillance-Ready Networks appeared first on Michael Geist.

Government Documents Reveal Canadian Telcos Envision Surveillance-Ready Networks

Michael Geist - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 07:54

Appeared in the Toronto Star on December 13, 2014 as Government Documents Reveal Telecom Providers Envision Surveillance-Ready Networks

After years of failed bills, public debate, and considerable controversy, lawful access legislation received royal assent last week. Public Safety Minister Peter MacKay’s Bill C-13 lumped together measures designed to combat cyberbullying with a series of new warrants to enhance police investigative powers, generating criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, civil liberties groups, and some prominent victims rights advocates. They argued that the government should have created cyberbullying safeguards without sacrificing privacy.

While the bill would have benefited from some amendments, it remains a far cry from earlier versions that featured mandatory personal information disclosure without court oversight and required Internet providers to install extensive surveillance and interception capabilities within their networks.

The mandatory disclosure of subscriber information rules, which figured prominently in earlier lawful access bills, were gradually reduced in scope and ultimately eliminated altogether. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court ruling raised doubt about the constitutionality of the provisions.

The surveillance and interception capability issue is more complicated, however. The prospect of a total surveillance infrastructure within Canadian Internet networks generated an enormous outcry when proposed in Vic Toews’ 2012 lawful access bill.  Not only did the bill specify the precise required surveillance and interception capabilities, but it also would have established extensive Internet provider reporting requirements and envisioned partial payments by government to help offset the costs for smaller Internet providers.

Those provisions were dropped from Bill C-13, yet according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, both Internet providers and the government have been debating a “Plan B” on how to ensure that there are surveillance and interception capable networks.

Perhaps the most notable revelation is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.

In light of the standardization of the interception capabilities, the memo notes that the Canadian providers argue that “the telecommunications market will soon shift to a point where interception capability will simply become a standard component of available equipment, and that technical changes in the way communications actually travel on communications networks will make it even easier to intercept communications.”

In other words, Canadian telecom providers are telling the government there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality since they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default.

While Canadian network providers claimed that interception and surveillance capabilities would become a standard feature in their networks, government officials were not entirely convinced. Department officials argued that interception is a “complex process” and that legislative requirements were preferred.

In the absence of mandated surveillance and interception capabilities, another internal government memorandum emphasized the value of incorporating the technologies in wireless networks through spectrum licence requirements. The memorandum notes that Public Safety works with Industry Canada in developing those requirements and deals directly with providers to ensure that they meet the necessary standards.

The department’s stated goal is to “ensure that the lawful interception capabilities of public safety agencies are maximized within the existing legal framework.”  In meeting its goal, the memorandum notes that it will work directly with the wireless providers to assess compliance levels and gain “valuable information on the interception capability currently available.”

The latest chapter of lawful access legislation may have come to a close, but the internal government documents suggest that the story is not yet over. With telecom providers suggesting that surveillance-capable networks are inevitable and government officials seeking alternatives to mandatory interception capabilities, the reality is that some of the issues at the heart of lawful access remain very much in play.

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 mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

The post Government Documents Reveal Canadian Telcos Envision Surveillance-Ready Networks appeared first on Michael Geist.

Supreme Court’s Privacy Streak Comes To End: Split Court Affirms Legality of Warrantless Phone Searches Incident to Arrest

Michael Geist - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 08:45

The Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in R. v. Fearon today, a case involving the legality of a warrantless cellphone search by police during an arrest. Given the court’s strong endorsement of privacy in recent cases such as Spencer, Vu, and Telus, this seemed like a slam dunk. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Riley, which addressed similar issues and ruled that a warrant is needed to search a phone, further suggested that the court would continue its streak of pro-privacy decisions.

To the surprise of many, a divided court upheld the ability of police to search cellphones without a warrant incident to an arrest. The majority established some conditions, but ultimately ruled that it could navigate the privacy balance by establishing some safeguards with the practice. A strongly worded dissent disagreed, noting the privacy implications of access to cellphones and the need for judicial pre-authorization as the best method of addressing the privacy implications.

The majority, written by Justice Cromwell (joined by McLachlin, Moldaver, and Wagner),  explicitly recognizes that cellphones are the functional equivalent of computers and that a search may constitute a significant intrusion of privacy. Yet the majority cautions that not every search is a significant intrusion. It ultimately concludes that there is the potential for a cellphone search to be intrusive, it does not believe that that will be the case in every instance.

Given that conclusion, it is prepared to permit cellphone searches that are incident to arrest provided that the law is modified with some additional protections against invasion of privacy. It proceeds to effectively write the law by creating four conditions: a lawful arrest, the search is incidental to the arrest with a valid law enforcement purpose, the search is tailored or limited to the purpose (ie. limited to recent information), and police take detailed notes on what they have examined and how the phone was searched.

One saving grace in the majority’s decision is that rejects the notion that password-protected phones legally enjoy greater privacy protection than non-protected ones.  The majority states:

I pause here for a moment to note that some courts have suggested that the protection s. 8 affords to individuals in the context of cell phone searches varies depending on whether an individual’s phone is password-protected. I would not give this factor very much weight in assessing either an individual’s subjective expectation of privacy or whether that expectation is reasonable. An individual’s decision not to password protect his or her cell phone does not indicate any sort of abandonment of the significant privacy interests one generally will have in the contents of the phone. Cell phones – locked or unlocked – engage significant privacy interests.

The dissent – written by Karakatsanis and joined by LeBel and Abella – unsurprisingly agrees on the issue of password protection but also offers a much stronger defence of privacy. It explicitly recognizes the connection between digital devices and privacy:

the cell phone acts like a key or portal which can allow the user to access the full treasure trove of records and files that the owner has generated or used on any number of devices.  It is not just the device itself and the information it has generated, but the gamut of (often intensely) personal data accessible via the device that gives rise to the significant and unique privacy interests in digital devices.  The fact that a suspect may be carrying their house key at the time they are arrested does not justify the police using that key to enter the suspect’s home.  In the same way, seizing the key to the user’s digital life should not justify a wholesale intrusion into that realm.  Indeed, personal digital devices are becoming as ubiquitous as the house key.  Increasingly large numbers of people carry such devices with them everywhere they go (be they cell phones, mobile computers, smart watches, smart glasses, or tablets).

The dissent proceeds to adopt the position that complicated conditions are no substitute for effective privacy. It therefore concludes that warrants provide the right balance:

The intensely personal and uniquely pervasive sphere of privacy in our personal computers requires protection that is clear, practical and effective.  An overly complicated template, such as the one proposed by the majority, does not ensure sufficient protection.  Only judicial pre-authorization can provide the effective and impartial balancing of the state’s law enforcement objectives with the privacy interests in our personal computers.  Thus, I conclude that the police must obtain a warrant before they can search an arrested person’s phone or other personal digital communications device.  Our common law already provides flexibility where there are exigent circumstances – when the safety of the officer or the public is at stake, or when a search is necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence.

While the case does provide some helpful language on the importance of privacy, the recognition that cellphones and computers are now functionally equivalent, and that password protection should not be a pre-requisite for privacy protection, the decision is a setback for privacy in Canada. With the court having just concluded in Spencer that a warrant is needed to access subscriber information, it should have maintained that approach by similarly requiring one for cellphone searches during an arrest. In trying to establish the legality of some warrantless cellphone searches, it has replaced the important safeguard of a judicial authorization with conditions that do little to protect privacy while complicating the obligations of law enforcement.

The post Supreme Court’s Privacy Streak Comes To End: Split Court Affirms Legality of Warrantless Phone Searches Incident to Arrest appeared first on Michael Geist.

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