Pirate Site Blocking Threatens Canada’s Net Neutrality, House of Commons Committee Says

By | 14/05/2018

Earlier this year several of the largest telcos in Canada teamed up with copyright holders to present their plan to tackle online piracy.

United in the Fairplay Canada coalition, Bell, Rogers, and others urged telecoms regulator CRTC to institute a national website blocking program.

The blocklist should be maintained by a yet to be established non-profit organization called the “Independent Piracy Review Agency” (IPRA) and both IPRA and the CRTC would be overseen by the Federal Court of Appeal, the organizations propose.

Thus far the response to the plan has been mixed. Several large media companies are in favor of blockades, arguing that it’s one of the few options to stop piracy. However, others fear that it will lead to overblocking and other problems.

Last week, the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics joined the opposition. In a detailed report on the protection of net neutrality in Canada, it signaled the blocking proposal as a serious concern.

The House of Commons committee, which advises Parliament on a variety of matters, notes that the Fairplay coalition hasn’t sufficiently explained why the current process doesn’t work, nor has it supplied sufficient evidence to justify the new measures.

“[T]he Committee is of the view that the proposal could impede the application of net neutrality in Canada, and that in their testimony, the ISPs did not present sufficient explanation as to why the existing process is inadequate or sufficient justification to support to application,” the report reads.

At the same time, the lack of judicial oversight is seen as a problem.

“The Committee also remains skeptical about the absence of judicial oversight in the Fair Play proposal and is of the view that maintaining such oversight is critical,” it adds.

What is clear, however, is that the proposal could impede the application of net neutrality in Canada. As such, the House of Commons committee recommends that the Government asks the CRTC to reconsider its decision, if it decides in favor of the blocking plan.

“That, in the event that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission supports FairPlay Canada’s application, the federal government consider using the authority provided under section 12 of the Telecommunications Act to ask the CRTC to reconsider its decision,” the recommendation reads.

Recommendation

The net neutrality angle has been brought up by several parties in the past, ranging from legal experts, through copyright holders, to the public at large. While many see it as a threat, those in favor of website blocking say it’s a non-issue.

Even Internet providers themselves are divided on the topic. Where Shaw sees no net neutrality concerns, TekSavvy has argued the opposite.

The House of Commons committee report clearly sides with the opponents and with backing from all political parties, it sends a strong message. This is music to the ears of law professor Micheal Geist, one of the most vocal critics of the Fairplay proposal.

“With all parties joining in a recommendation against the site blocking plan, the report represents a strong signal that the FairPlay coalition plan led by Bell does not have political support given that it raises freedom of expression, due process, and net neutrality concerns,” Geist notes.

A copy of the report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is available here (pdf).

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