Incoming government faces a list of IT-related legal issues

As Prime Minister-elect Stephen Harper heads to Parliament Hill following his party’s victory on Monday night, members of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers were making a wish-list of items they would like the new government to consider when Parliament resumes.

Given the lack of attention candidates paid to technology during the two-month long campaign, CAIP decided in lieu of crystal ball gazing it would provide its guidance to Harper’s minority government, which captured 124 seats.

CAIP cited several problems with Bill C74, also known as Lawful Access, which was introduced by the previous government. In November, the then federal government tabled the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act (MITA). The Act, which will require all telephone and Internet service providers (ISPs) to provide an “interception capability” to assist law enforcement officals, made it through its first reading but was put on hold when Parliament was dissolved on November 29, 2005.

CAIP said the legislation, if passed, will stifle innovation by requiring all new technologies to be access-capable in order to be rolled out. It also does not address the issue of operational costs for telecom service providers (TSPs). Further, it will require TSPs to be capable of conducting large volumes of simultaneous intercepts without confirming that such high volumes would ever be necessary.

Tom Copeland, CAIP president said members were surprised to see Lawful Access legislation before anti-spam legislation.

“That’s an indication of where the government’s interest was at the time,” said Copeland. “We will see Lawful Access re-introduced before we see anti-spam unless there’s something political in what was introduced to start with that the Conservatives didn’t like.”

Paul Martin’s Liberal government started up an anti-spam taskforce under the department of Industry Canada. The Federal Task Force on Spam presented its final report to the Minister of Industry. The report calls for new, targeted legislation, as well as more rigorous enforcement to strengthen Canada’s legal and regulatory powers in fighting spam. The department is also responsible for Canada’s Telecommunications Policy Review, an initiative that was announced in the previous government’s federal budget. A final report has yet to be released. Industry Canada on Tuesday said it would not comment on issues before the new government is sworn in.

Copeland made similar comments in his recommendations for the Anti-Spam Task Force.

“We hope the new government introduces effective legislation that targets the right party, namely the spammers and not the industry which is also a victim,” he wrote in an e-mail to following a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Conservative Party dodged questions on what its stance will be on these and other policy issues relating to technology during an interview with Tuesday. Asked what will happen to the work the previous government had started, Conservative Party spokeswoman Sandra Buckler replied: “Questions like this aren’t going to be dealt with. They’ll have to be brought forward when we’re sworn in and when we take a hold of our agenda.”

CAIP is will also be lobbying the new government to recognize the value broadband access has in the economic and social development of rural and remote areas. Copeland said broadband is one area that CAIP would like to see some clarity on.

“Given the promised tax cuts that are in the works, it’d be interesting to see first if they support a government-assisted rollout of broadband in rural and remote areas and if they do, how will they pay for it,” said Copeland.

The Privacy Commissioner’s first review of the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act, which is up for review this year, since it was fully implemented in 2004 was also a key technology issue during the last government. In her report, which was released in October, Jennifer Stoddart also called for reforms to the Privacy Act to make it relevant in the post-9/11 environment of increased need for personal info and surveillance.

While the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is staying mum on the subject until the new government takes effect, a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, “We hope that the new government will be as concerned as we are about the need for reform of the Privacy Act. Members of the Conservative Party, as well as others, have already expressed support for this.”

The e-mail went on to say that the office has no reason to believe that the government will be anything but supportive of it and the work it does to protect and promote privacy rights.

Until all Monday’s results are made official and members are sworn in, Copeland said companies in Canada’s technology sector will have to wait and see.

“I’m certain the Liberals, Bloc and NDP will be ensuring that (the Conservatives) don’t spend money that they don’t have,” said Copeland. “That may not bode well for the government support of technology in Canada but time will tell.”

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