Electoral candidates challenged on IT user rights
6/23/2004 5:00:00 PM - Public interest groups like PIAC asked five federal parties what they plan to do about spam, privacy and open source once in office. Four of them responded. Find out how technology issues stack up on the national agenda
by Fawzia Sheikh
Three groups are trying to grab the attention of the political parties on issues that have aroused little interest in the election, like user rights under copyright law and other technology-related matters.
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Digital Copyright
Canada and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre asked party leaders and candidates for their views on subjects like music file-sharing over the Internet, ways to stop spam, increasing the use of open-source software in government and the use of national ID cards before the June 28 federal election.
"These are particularly controversial issues that we wanted to hear their opinions on," said Philippa Lawson, executive director of CIPPIC in Ottawa. "They're also issues that are before the federal government now and will be. We think, with the possible exception of national ID cards, they will be on the table for the new government."
Although all the parties, except for the Conservatives, responded to the groups' request, Lawson and her peers were still "disappointed" with some of the answers.
On copyright issues such as ISP liability for copyright infringement and technological protection of copyrighted materials, Lawson said the parties referred only to an interim report last month on copyright reform issued by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian heritage —— one that the organizations considered inadequate.
Although the Liberals also mentioned their party itself was looking at the issues, "the NDP and the Bloc, I think, really didn't know," said Lawson. "The issues are complicated and require some understanding of an area that most people don't have a lot of understanding of. I think it was just their way of getting answers out fast."
On the issue of open-source software, the NDP said it has not taken a position, although it's aware the government is considering the issue. It also said it's eager to see which measures industry and software developers are able to develop to fight spam.
In contrast, the Liberal government said it has already taken steps to fight spam, last month creating an anti-spam task force to work with industry, marketers and consumers to cut unwanted e-mail. In the coming months, the government will review progress of its plan and present its findings.
The Liberals were reluctant to endorse national ID cards, and cited personal privacy, governance and projected costs as concerns. Although it had not crafted further policies on ID cards, it's researching their use in other countries.
Lawson said the Green Party in general is an issues-oriented group unconcerned about winning power and satisfying stakeholder groups. She said it's addressed technology-related topics like open-source software and spam in its platform.
Yet, for the most part, Lawson pointed out, most parties are more concerned about issues like health care and defence that resonate deeply with Canadians than technology problems that have only indirect implications.
"The problem is that when you have unbalanced copyright law, then the repercussions there are not obvious. But you end up having reduced educational opportunities or less access to information. You don't know what you're missing."
Potential changes in copyright law have certainly been a sore point for CIPPIC and PIAC, which this week responded to the government's recommendations last month on the subject.
Sue Lott, counsel for PIAC in Ottawa, said the biggest concern is the government's strong push to ratify two treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Copyright Treaty and Performances and Phonograms Treaty, that will pressure Canada to adopt measures "prohibiting circumvention of technological protection measures used by copyright holders."
Lott said she fears further legal protection of technical measures, as the standing committee urges, will override legal uses of copyrighted material such as study, research, educational and private uses.
"You can end up wiping out any ability to even access material...because it doesn't delineate whether you're accessing it for legal or illegal uses."
Lott was concerned very few public-interest organizations, in particular those in the educational community, have followed this issue. Fearful about what they might lose, educators have taken "a much more careful and weaker voice, frankly, than I wish they had."