Lawful Access bill – a very bad idea

The Canadian federal government is re-introducing a “lawful access” bill that will give police the ability to get certain information about us from our Internet Service Providers without a warrant.  It will also require anyone who offers telecommunications services to build in a backdoor to give police access for wiretap purposes.

This bill is an affront to privacy and should not be passed.  For some insight into the details and why it is a bad idea, and links to other material take a look at:

And sign the online petition at Open

And by the way, I’m tired of the political rhetoric and hyperbole that surrounds so much proposed legislation.  Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has been widely quoted as responding to an opposition question on the bill by saying  “He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers”.    Really?  We deserve better than that.

The laws that govern us deserve rational debate and intelligent discussion about why they are needed, whether the proposals will help address that, what the collateral damage might be, whether the benefits are worth the costs, etc.  


Governments to ISPs – don’t keep that info – no, wait, keep that info

Yesterday I wrote about privacy consultations regarding the online tracking of consumers.  Privacy advocates want to ensure that consumer choice and privacy are respected.   Similarly, pressure is put on ISP’s and search engines to limit the amount of information they retain about their customers, and the length of time they retain it.  All laudable objectives.

On the other hand, law enforcement wants to require ISP’s to retain certain information about sites their customers visit for long periods of time to facilitate criminal investigations. See this CNet article for example.

Seems inconsistent to me.

ISP’s shouldn’t be obligated to police the net

Michael Geist’s article in yesterday’s Star is worth a read. Michael talks about the second thoughts various governments are having to proposals (called the “three strikes” or “graduated response” policy) that would have ISP’s terminate subscribers for repeated file sharing activities.

Michael is absolutely right that such a policy would be a bad idea, for reasons he explains in his article. Those of you who read my Free Press article from yesterday won’t be surprised that I agree with Michael – I took the same position, albeit based on a different fact situation.

The bottom line is that ISP’s and web hosts should not be required to police their users or provide some sort of judicial oversight over user activity.

Read Michael’s column

Craigslist deemed Internet service

For the London Free Press – April 21, 2008

Read this on Canoe

A recent court of appeal ruling found that Craigslist — a popular venue which provides an electronic forum for those who want to buy, sell or rent housing or other goods and services — should be treated like an Internet service provider and should not be liable for material posted by third parties.

That decision is sensible, and should be the norm for sites that provide for content added by others. That is similar to the concept that phone companies and Internet service providers should not be liable for their customers’ messages and conversations.

Craigslist came under scrutiny when the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights sued Craigslist, arguing the Internet classified ads company violated the Fair Housing Act by publishing discriminatory housing posting.

Under American law, section 360(4)(a) of the Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination on account of race, religion, sex, or family status when selling or renting housing. This prohibition is accompanied by a ban on ads that state a preference with respect to any of the protected classes, essentially making it illegal to print or publish any type of notice or ad for the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates a preference for race, colour, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.

The Chicago Lawyer’s Committee noted offensive comments in notices for the sale or rental of homes on Craigslist, including comments like “no minorities” or “no children.”

The matter was recently appealed to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal. The key issue in the appeal was whether the site could be liable for allowing customers to post discriminatory housing ads. The lower court decision was upheld. The court found Craigslist should be treated like an Internet service provider and should not be liable for materials posted by third parties.

The judge considered whether Craigslist should hire staff to vet postings, but concluded this would be expensive and futile. Vetting would result in posting delays that defeat the purpose of Craigslist.

Each month, more than 30 million notices are posted to the system. Fewer than 30 people, all based in California, operate the system that offers classifieds in 450 cities. It would be necessary to add staff, indirectly increasing consumer costs, to handle the sort of editorial review the committee demanded.

In addition, whether something is inappropriate or offensive is a judgment call.

One of the ads cited contained the phrase, “Catholic church and beautiful Buddhist temple within one block,” which the committee viewed as a signal of religious preference.

Craigslist viewed it as an objective description of a neighborhood that would help people zero in on properties attractive to them. Craigslist noted it is no more exclusionary than assuming an ad reading “elementary school within five minutes” would indicate a landlord would refuse to rent to childless couples. It is not reasonable to expect such companies to exercise something akin to judicial oversight.

Net Neutrality and Rogers

Michael Geist’s latest article in the Toronto Star talks about Roger’s traffic shaping, the unintended problems it creates (it may be causing slowdowns in corporate VPN traffic), and how it fits into the net neutrality debate.

Michael’s blog post also refers to some other views on the subject by Matt Roberts and Mark Evans. All three of those articles are a good read for anyone interested in the net neutrality debate, or how ISP’s control web traffic.

In essence, net neutrality (which I agree with by the way) is the idea that an ISP should not selectively degrade service to give one service provider better service to the user than another, whether that service provider is the ISP itself or someone else.

For example, an ISP should not degrade Vonage or Skype VOIP calls and ensure that the ISP’s own VOIP service gets priority or quality. Or the ISP should not degrade the VOIP traffic of all VOIP providers except the one that pays them for preferential service.

Read Michael’s post and the other articles

Videotron calls for tariff on content providers

Videotron, a Quebec based ISP and cable TV operator, was quoted in newspaper articles yesterday as calling for a tariff on content providers such as Apple and Amazon. Videotron thinks the content providers are getting a free ride.

Michael Geist and Rob Hyndman were both quick to point out why that’s not a good idea. I encourage you to look at their comments.

My perspective is that it would be equally logical for content providers to try to charge Videotron for the priviledge of allowing Videotron customers to access their content. After all, without providers of content and services such as Apple, Amazon, Google, etc., Videotron would not have customers eager to buy their services.

Read Michael’s comments

Read Rob’s comments

Copyright reform & lawful access

We are expecting 2 pieces of federal legislation soon dealing with copyright reform and lawful access. Both will be controversial.

David Fraser has a good comment on the role that private sector service providers should play in the balance between privacy and security – and its not to act as police.

Michael Geist continues with his 30 days of DRM series that deals with copyright reform issues, particularly, what the legislation might say about protecting DRM. He also has a good comment on the questionable thinking contained in an education ministers proposal.

My position on DRM is that is causes more problems than it solves, and defeating it should not be outlawed. Michael has focussed on all the exeptions that shouod be allowed to any provision outlawing defeating DRM. It just reinforces to me that this is getting way too complicated. Far simpler, easier, more certain, and balanced to forget any notion of outlawing tools to defeat DRM, and to expand the definition of fair dealing.

Read David’s comment on service provider roles

Read Michael’s comment on the education minister proposal

FTC to look at Net Neutrality

Tech memeorandum points to a Federal Trade Commission news release that says the FTC has formed an Internet task force to: “examine issues being raised by converging technologies and regulatory developments, and to educate and inform the enforcement, advocacy and education initiatives of the Commission.” and “to address what is likely the most hotly debated issue in communications, so-called ‘network neutrality”

The FTC favours market forces instead of regulation, which in general is a good idea. The question is whether market forces can actually achieve network neutrality – I’m skeptical.

I’m convinced network neutrality , ie ISP’s not discriminating against traffic from others, especially competitors, is crucial.

Read the Tech memeorandum post

Read the FTC news release

Sympatico privacy / monitoring kerfuffle

Over the last couple of days there has been a lot of press – both tech and mainstream – about the amended Bell Sympatico user agreement. Language was added about the ability of Sympatico to monitor traffic and report it to the government.

Most commentary speculated that the language was in response to expected draft legislation that would increase the government’s ability to monitor web traffic. Bell denies that.

My first thought was that perhaps Bell made the amendment in order to generate publicity against the pending legislation. After all, ISP’s would rather not deal with it for both philosophical privacy reasons, and the additional costs and headaches it will cause. That would have been an interesting approach to lobby against it.

Even if that was not the intent, it may be the result.

I share David Fraser’s view that at the very least the choice of words was poor.

See David’s Canadian Privacy law blog for a post with more detail about the issue and links to various reports.

Telcos should pay Google

Techdirt has a post with a different spin on the Network Neutrality issue. Some telcos have suggested that entitles like Google and Vonage should be paying them over and above normal bandwidth fees, because they are taking advantage of their networks.

Techdirt argues that the Telcos should instead pay Google and Vonage, because those kinds of services cause more people to want broadband. The arguement is backed up by similar deals in the video business.

Read the Techdirt post