Privacy advocates launch DRM information portal

Canadian privacy advocates are pushing the federal government to back away from any moves to extend legal protection to digital rights management technology through copyright reform.

More than a dozen organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Association for Open Source signed a pair of open letters that were sent to Ministers of Canadian Heritage and Industry earlier this week. The letters were complemented with the launch of a Web site,, which provides more background and context to the privacy risks they claim are associated with digital rights management (DRM). Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, along with her Ontario and British Columbia counterparts Ann Cavoukian and David Loukidelis, endorsed the letter and sent letters of their own.

The campaign is being organized by the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), run out of the University of Ottawa. CIPPIC has aggressively been fighting attempts by big business lobbyists to encourage changes to Canada’s Copyright Act. David Fewer, CIPPIC’s legal counsel, said will be a place for policy experts to debate and track changes at the government level. The group is also associated with Online Rights Canada, which deals with similar issues but at a more grassroots level.

“We really see this as becoming a clearinghouse to address these problems,” Fewer said. “I think these are two areas (copyright and privacy) are viewed by the government as very different columns and never the two shall mix.”

The letter complains that Cavoukian, among others, wrote about the risks of privacy in DRM four years ago, but that the warnings have been ignored.

“Rather than consulting on privacy and considering copyright law reforms that would protect Canadians from the use of DRM (as an increasing number of commentators have suggested we should do), our former government proposed copyright reforms that would provide protection for DRM,” the letter says. “Proposed ‘anti-circumvention’ provisions would make it illegal for people to circumvent copyright holders’ DRM. Such legal provisions could cripple Canadians’ ability to protect their privacy and to enjoy copyright works in private, free from copyright holders’ DRM ‘spyware.’”

David Canton, a lawyer who focuses on intellectual property issues at Hamilton, Ont.-based Harrison Pensa, said he agreed with the letter’s arguments.

“If it just prevented me from playing a DVD in my computer or copying a CD in a certain way, that’s one thing, but the DRM technology is quite often going much farther,” he said. “We’re not really talking about the physical piece of media, it’s controlling the content. To control that, they’re starting to use technologies that keep on track of what happens to it. The minute you start that, you have this potential for tracking what people do.”

Fewer said the Sony rootkit fiasco has created a lot of awareness around the DRM privacy debate which could help’s cause.

“Maybe a year ago, when CIPPIC was talking about DRM and why it was such a big concern, people could roll their eyes,” he said. “Now, it’s so understandably clear what we’re talking about. You don’t get class action lawsuits all over the continent for something that isn’t there.”

The letters ask the government to conduct a full privacy impact assessment and a public consultation before any proposed copyright reforms move forward.

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