SecTOR 2023: A call to Canadian IT pros for political action

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IT pros should become more involved in technology policy issues to prevent the Trudeau government from making bad choices, attendees at the annual SecTOR cybersecurity conference have been told.

“I’m not entirely convinced that the government knows what it’s doing,” keynote speaker Michael Geist, Canada Research chair in internet and e-commerce law and a University of Ottawa law professor, said Wednesday. “It needs more expertise bought to the table so the kinds of policy choices being made are informed by evidence and experts, which sometimes is lacking.”

The government has made mistakes in recently-passed legislation to regulate online streaming, and online news, as well as proposed private sector privacy legislation now before Parliament, he said.

“One of the most essential aspects of all this is for the informed expert community to become more actively engaged in digital policy,” he said.

It’s not that there are no reasons to regulate certain industries, he said. But what’s needed is smart regulation. The solution to some problems, Geist argued, needs both public and private sector to work together.

The Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) was originally aimed at bringing web giants like Netflix under the oversight of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). But now the CRTC is talking about also regulating smaller content providers, he said.

The Online News Act, which comes into effect Dec. 18 and is aimed at making search engines pay news organizations who are losing advertising revenue, runs the risk of hurting news sites here if Google refuses to carry links to Canadian news. Meta has already promised to do so, and in August stopped carrying those links on Facebook and Instagram.

The overhaul of federal privacy legislation covering the private sector (Bill C-27, which includes the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and the Artificial Intelligence and Data Act) faces controversy before Parliament, Geist added.

And then there’s the long-promised and long-delayed online harms bill to deal with hate and disinformation on social media platforms.

If worried, the tech community can speak to their MPs, sign online petitions, file questions with the CRTC, make submissions to parliamentary committees, and participate in a new public consultation on AI and copyright law, Geist said.

MPs have told him they pay attention to letters they receive, he added.

In an interview after his speech, Geist said the problem is the Trudeau government’s decisions are driven by what it thinks is good politics, and not good policy.

“It’s been driven by considerations primarily on what it thinks the political calculation and potential benefits of some of these proposals are, instead of the evidence and doing a deeper dive into the policy itself.

“On some of these issues I think it’s already readily apparent that it [the government] made a mistake. Unfortunately, instead of acknowledging what most recognize to have been a real miscalculation, it’s taken an approach of doubling down — and in some cases tripling down. I think at some point in time, the harms will be too readily apparent that they’ll have to course-correct. But in the meantime, there’s a lot of pain on the way.

Some online media companies are facing “a real and I think an existential threat from what the government has proposed.”


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