Bill C-51, an anti-terrorism legislative favorite, just passed in Canada’s House of Commons last week in a 183 to 96 vote. Next up, C-51 is heading to the Senate, where its fate will be decided—however, judging from how the House of Commons voted, it will likely slide right through. The Conservative government debuted the bill in January, and it immediately drummed up critics. Opponents of the bill say it gives police incredible power, including the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS, which is similar to America’s CIA), but it lacks the additional governance necessary that comes with so much control being handed over.
The bill, while passing easily, has been steeped in controversy. There have been protests held throughout Canada, and a number of residents say that it’s setting a poor precedence. The Liberal party is vehemently opposing the bill, rallying together against the Conservative supporters. The leader of the Liberal party, Justin Trudeau, says, “I find (the Bill) worrisome; I find it another example of increasing government fear and control of the Internet and a lot of the on the ground interpretation issues will land at the feet of hosting companies.” Trudeau reflects what a lot of hosting company owners are struggling with as they wait to see how the Canadian government might impact their business.
Safety at All Costs?
A number of web hosts are supporters of Canada’s i2Coalition (i2C0), which is a non-profit organization that advocates for the internet’s infrastructure for businesses and industries throughout the country. It’s unsurprising that, as an anti-terrorism bill, C-51 might strongly change how telecommunication service providers and internet service providers (ISPs) operate in the country. Right now, C-51 requires both of these industries to take down any content that a judge deems “terrorist propaganda” or that has the potential to make such content available. Those are very subjective words, and many are concerned that the bill can be used as censorship even when there’s not any direct threat.
How do you define a terrorist? It’s a noun that’s open for interpretation, and even different judges may have different definitions. Elliot Noss, a small business owner and supporter of i2CO says, “I think most of us are comfortable an ISIS cell is probably objectionable but you kind of move down the line and get to your organizations like Greenpeace or other environmental groups, you get further down the line and you get to people who are in favor to reform intellectual property law and often those people can be characterized as terrorists. You see what has happened in the US with the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) and that Act in particular has been abused to expand to people who are dealing with free and open information.”
Too Much Pressure for Web Hosts
Noss and others on his side are frustrated that Canadian hosts might be bombarded with demands that are unreasonable. They’ll have to comply with any and all court orders blindly, and many may not have access to legal advice. This has the potential to take down smaller hosts. For boutique companies, they may have no other choice but to comply.
The bill still needs to pass the Senate, giving opponents a small window of time to educate others on the dangers such a bill may pose.