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Canada's internet future at stake in Monday election

Conservatives v The Open Interwebs

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The future of the Internet is at stake in Monday's Canadian election.

Candidates representing all major political parties have declared themselves "pro-internet Candidates" by pledging support for an open internet on the grassroots website Openmedia. Only one candidate among the dominant Conservative party has signed. Other parties are more strongly represented, with the NDP having 50 signed candidates; the Greens, 64; and the Liberals, 83.

Openmedia's agitation on digital policy issues gained attention earlier this year when almost half a million Canadians signed an online petition decrying punishingly low bandwidth caps and Usage Based Billing (UBB). The campaign went viral, forcing a climbdown on the issue by Canada's major ISPs. Those ideas, however, have since been revived.

As a response to the massive public outcry, Canada's major political parties made their digital policies clear. The NDP, Liberals, and Greens have taken a populist approach. Universally accessible broadband, net neutrality, copyright reforms, and transparency of the country's telecommunications regulatory body (the CRTC) are all recurring themes.

The Conservative platform differs. The Conservatives have announced no plans to review the transparency of the CRTC. They strongly oppose any and all calls for functional separation (unbundling of incumbents' infrastructure from retail operations) of Canada's telecommunications. Conservative Industry Minister Tony Clement considers functional separation "completely unrealistic," citing the telecommunications industry's current momentum towards greater integration, not less.

In conjunction with an overall "tough on crime" platform, Conservative digital policy is strongly focused on digital security. The Conservatives support stronger copyright laws and are opposed to fair-use format shifting. The right to break "digital locks" has become an election issue in at least one contentious riding.

The Conservatives have vowed that should they obtain a majority they will bundle together a series of crime bills – including many digital-policy items – and push through tougher laws within 100 days of election. These laws include a commitment to internet surveillance in the form of three "lawful-access" bills. Several of Canada's privacy commissioners have already expressed deep reservations over the content of these bills.

The lawful-access bills would require Canadian ISPs to purchase and maintain deep packet–inspection equipment. ISPs would be required to disclose personal information – including names, physical addresses, email addresses, and IP identifiers – without court oversight. These bills would create new police powers including data-transmission warrants allowing real-time access to data as well as retention of data for up to 90 days.

This is not the first time lawful access has been proposed. Liberal MP Dan McTeague proposed similar legislation in 2009, with the NDP demonstrating strong resistance. Lawful access is not currently addressed in the published digital policies of the NDP, Green, or Liberal parties. ®

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