Election 2006 leaves technology legislation in limbo

The expected collapse of Paul Martin’s minority government this week will derail several pieces of proposed legislation to change the way copyright is handled electronically and how police use the Internet in their investigations.

An early evening no-confidence vote Monday evening could trigger the fall of the federal Liberals after 17 months in power. If that happens, Prime Minister Martin could ask Governor-General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve the government as early as Tuesday morning, triggering an immediate election campaign likely to run 56 days, with a hiatus over Christmas.

The election would kill off – at least temporarily – both Bill C-60, a series of amendment to the Canadian Copyright Act, and the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act (MITA), which would legalize several elements of the “Lawful Access” proposals that affect ISPs across the country. It could also see the incoming government shelve a plan to review the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and the role of the federal Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart.

Both Bill C-60 and MITA have attracted considerable controversy by IT industry firms and public interest groups. Bill C-60, for example, would make illegal any attempts to circumvent technological protection measures (TPMs) that protect media and prevent it from being copied, which alarmed security companies who said they do so for research purposes. MITA, meanwhile, would give police new and expanded powers to demand ISPs secretly monitor and hand over records about their subscribers to police upon request, possibly creating infrastructure and administrative costs for many providers. Bill C-60 was introduced in late June, while MITA was tabled in the Commons only a few weeks ago.

Philippa Lawson, director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), said that no matter who wins an election early next year, she expects the tabled legislation to be re-introduced as-is. That doesn’t mean CIPPIC won’t take advantage of the opportunity to press for changes, however.

“Both are (laws) on which the government has been working for years, consulting with stakeholders. We will be out there with other civil society groups arguing for a fairer hearing,” she said. “Copyright is about fairness and public interest. What is the vision of the government here in terms of the future of the Internet and access to creative and other work? What is the vision in state surveillance and individual civil liberties?”

CIPPIC is also concerned that the PIPEDA review proceed as planned, and that the government look seriously at the extent to which Stoddart has enough power to effectively enforce PIPEDA, Lawson said. As it did in the 2004 election, CIPPIC will be seeking out official positions from all the major parties on the Internet policies it deems most relevant and posting the responses on its Web site.

“Neither of these issues has been high enough up on the public radar,” she said. “Copyright has never had much profile, but maybe the Sony-DRM thing will change that,” she added, referred to a recent controversy in which users discovered spyware-like technologies in Sony’s CDs.

Barry Sookman, co-chair of the technology law group at McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto, said a number of parties have argued that Bill C-60 has serious flaws, particularly around the stringency of TPMs and the extent to which they would meet the requirements of Internet treaties to which Canada has signed.

“Everyone would have liked this to go forward, it gives the government an opportunity to fix the problems in the bill so that it will actually addresses these issues,” he said.

“Regardless of political stripe and minority government, we’ll be a consensus on all sides to come up with a bill that’s generally recognized.”

Michael Deturbide a professor at the Law and Technology Institute at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said minority governments may have a harder time pushing some laws through, but they could mean MITA in its final form looks much different.

“It depends on how you feel about the legislation,” he said. “If you think Lawful Access is a bad thing, the interruption is something you like to see . . . Certain people don’t think the police should have that much power. There probably will be a debate on that.”

Another highly controversial piece of legislation that could have an impact on corporate IT systems – Bill C-37, the Do-Not-Call bill – made it just under the wire. It received Royal Assent late Friday.

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