Proposal to allow Canadian ISPs to remove content

A proposal floated at the Canadian Telecom Summit by the Canadian Jewish Congress would give ISPs the power to remove pornography and hate speech “at their own discretion”. Despite the fact that finding content to be illegal takes a ” lengthy court process” Bernie Farber, chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, suggests that “[i]t doesn’t take a lot to discern what is pornographic and what is hate” and the ISPs “have some expertise to make those decisions”. Farber’s response to worries about consumer’s objections to having content arbitrarily removed is “let them sue you”.

There are some very serious problems with this approach. First, pornography is not illegal in this country, second ISP’s are not the best judges of legality. They have proven to be horribly inept at it, especially when it comes to takedowns for copyright violations.

Actually ISPs are already removing content at their discretion. And in contrast to the optimism expressed by some, it does not solve the problem. When sites are taken down they simply move to other providers.

This is where the slippery slope begins. The calls for “takedown” immediately move to blocking and filtering. In discussing the proposal, Det. Don McKinnon, of the hate crimes unit, supports filtering:

“The technology that is available . . . is much similar to call blocking,” said McKinnon, explaining it’s basically a website blocker.

The introduction of a system plagued with procedural and technical problems simply because the legal solution involves a “lengthy court process” ignores the issue at hand. If judicial speed is the issue fix it, don’t bypass our system of checks and balances in way that has proven to be detrimental to freedom of speech and expression. ISPs and techies should not be considered replacements for judges and lawyers. Yes, there are challenges to combating hate speech online but difficulty should not be a deterrent.

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