The Liberals’ proposed online harms bill has been criticized in ‘secret’ submissions from tech and telecom companies


Submissions said the bill could be used for censorship purposes, as a “tactic” by political parties, and a joint telecoms response warned against government excesses.

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Responses to the Liberal government’s proposed Online Harms Bill by companies including Microsoft, Twitter and Canadian Telecom are among hundreds of submissions Canadian Heritage has refused to publish.

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Previously withheld comments include a Twitter document that warned that the proposed framework involving proactive content monitoring “sacrifices free speech to the creation of a government-run surveillance system of anyone who uses Twitter.”

The submissions said the bill could be used for censorship purposes, as a ‘tactic’ by political parties, and a joint telecoms response warned against government excesses in asking for private information from subscribers without judicial authorization.

The bill has now been sent to an expert advisory group for review after the government acknowledged the response to its initial proposal was ‘mainly critical’.

But the government has refused to release the 422 submissions it received. Only submissions that stakeholders chose to self-publish were available to the public and the media. Many of them warned that the proposal as it is described would infringe on privacy and Charter rights.

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The National Post has now obtained the full text of the memoirs through a freedom of information request. Most of them, 350, came from individuals, and the rest came mainly from academia, industry and civil society organizations.

The Online Harms Bill would target online posts in five categories: terrorist content, content inciting violence, hate speech, intimate images shared without consent and child sexual exploitation content.

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Platforms would be required to proactively monitor posts and would have 24 hours to remove illegal content after it is flagged. The bill would create a new regulatory body called the Digital Security Commissioner of Canada who would be in charge of enforcement.

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In its submission, Twitter said the government’s proposal lacked even “the most basic procedural fairness requirements you might expect from a government-run system, such as notification and warning.” He added that “the obligation to ‘share’ information at the request of the Crown is also deeply troubling”.

The platform also warned that the ability to flag content would be misused. He said the reporting would be “used as a political tactic”.

“As experienced in recent Canadian federal elections, a blanket approach to flagging will lead to censorship,” Twitter said, explaining that throughout the election campaign, political parties and officials have tried to get content flagged. as harmful “for the purpose of having it removed”. public discourse or score political points.

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In its submission, Microsoft told the government that it shouldn’t be up to private companies to determine what is illegal.

“Service providers shouldn’t be required to proactively monitor user content, or decide whether particular content is illegal,” he said. “Elected officials and independent courts – not private companies – should be the makers of illegal content.”

The company also said it was concerned the proposal “could have disproportionate impacts on free speech and other fundamental human rights.” Microsoft warned of the precedent the legislation could set and warned that its repercussions “will be felt both at home and abroad, particularly if countries without strong democratic institutions underscore Canada’s approach to defend regulatory frameworks within their borders that are used to suppress internet speech or other human rights.

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Pinterest also weighed in on the consultation. Although it acknowledged that its platform “is not a place for politics” and said it was not focused on promoting free speech, the company warned against implications the bill could have on “law-abiding internet users”.

“The requirement to remove illegal content with 24 hours notice, for example, will give many small or medium-sized platforms little time to assess potentially complex legal claims,” he said.

“The strong incentive will simply be to remove any content that is alleged to break the law, to avoid any legal risk.”

Canada’s largest telecommunications company also wrote to the government in a joint submission. Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Cogeco and Quebecor said they strongly support the government’s decision to exempt telecoms from the new legislation.

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But the submission noted concerns about a section of the proposal that said the government was considering requiring entities such as internet service providers who report child pornography material to provide basic customer information, such as name. and address, without law enforcement having to go to court to obtain production orders for that information.

Telecoms said the government “should not require ISPs to provide basic subscriber information or transmission data without judicial authorization. It is not clear that eliminating the need for judicial authorization would be justified against the need to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of Canadians.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has indicated that the government is ready to completely rework the bill. He gave the expert advisory group two months to do its work, including additional consultations with stakeholders. “We want to do it right. And…together we will get there,” he told reporters in March.


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