USMCA writes new continental rules around online content, experts say

Digital policy expert Michael Geist said such safe harbour rules haven’t been part of the Canadian landscape

The newly released North American trade pact could prevent large websites from having to quickly take down questionable material in what is being seen as a potential victory for freedom of speech online.

The digital trade provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement include wording that doesn’t hold internet companies liable for content posted from third parties like users, essentially arguing the company is not the publisher, just the host.

Digital policy expert Michael Geist said such safe harbour rules haven’t been part of the Canadian landscape, which is why content like critical, over-the-top restaurant reviews are more swiftly removed in Canada than in the United States.

The wording is a first for the North American trading partners and could set the stage for it to be embedded in Canadian law, said Geist, the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa.

“This, I think, is actually a good provision. It helps freedom of expression online, it provides some amount of a safe harbour for internet companies that try to do the right thing by removing content in appropriate circumstances and it’s the sort of thing that Canadian law has been missing,” Geist said in an interview.

READ MORE: Out with NAFTA, in with USMCA: Canada inks new trade deal

The three trade partners heralded the agreement-in-principle, which still has to be ratified by all involved, as a major step forward to deal with issues that were in their infancy when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed a quarter-century ago.

The digital trade provisions could also limit geographical restrictions on where data is stored and roll back requirements that companies wanting to do e-business have a physical presence in a particular jurisdiction.

The wording is new for the continental trade partners, which didn’t have similar provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it is found in other agreements that Canada has signed.

Still, the agreement also gives governments an out, allowing for exceptions for provincial governments that want to, for instance, keep patient data stored in their jurisdiction.

“There’s no clarity here,” said David Murakami Wood, the Canada Research Chair in surveillance studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“It’s one of these things where it could mean everything and it could mean nothing.”

Susan Aaronson, an expert on digital trade from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said the USMCA falls short around data rules, which is why she is urging the Trudeau government to think more about a national strategy to figure out how to help data-driven sectors like artificial intelligence and smart manufacturing.

“That’s where it (USMCA) has just totally fallen short and that’s why I think Canada needs to think long and hard about it,” Aaronson said.

Laura Tribe, executive director of the group OpenMedia, said Canada would get to keep what’s called its “notice and notice” system, which kicks in when an internet provider must notify a user about an unauthorized download of copyrighted material like a movie or television show.

The wording in the digital trade chapter could also put Canada at odds with a free trade agreement with the European Union. Aaronson said Canada will have to reconcile its arrangements with the U.S. — a trading partner with weak rules governing privacy — with those it has forged with the EU, which has strict rules on personal information.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: ‘Contactless’ donation drive in Surrey to help women in need

Items needed for women in shelters, transition houses in the Lower Mainland

Wanted Burnaby man arrested in White Rock

34-year-old facing 15 charges, including sexual assault

PHOTOS: South Surrey veteran honoured by South Korea as Ambassador for Peace

Medal presented to Donald McClellan an ‘expression of gratitude’ for service during Korean War

COVID-19: Update on the pandemic for Surrey, White Rock and beyond

JULY 10: Contactless donation drive in Surrey today, gradual restart gaining ground

Surrey officer-impersonation scam continues ‘almost daily’

Police reiterate warning that demands for Bitcoin in exchange for waived charges are fraudulent

Horgan says B.C. restart making gains as more people come out of their homes

B.C. announced the easing of more restrictions on businesses, recreation and travel last month

B.C.’s COVID-19 job recovery led by tourism, finance minister says

Okanagan a bright spot for in-province visitor economy

National Kitten Day aka the ‘purrfect’ day to foster a new friend

July 10 marks National Kitten Day, a special day to celebrate all things kittens

Lower Mainland YouTubers claim to be Kelowna display toilet ‘poopers’

RCMP can not speak to legitimacy of video, will be investigating

Haida matriarchs occupy ancient villages as fishing lodges reopen to visitors

‘Daughters of the rivers’ say occupation follows two fishing lodges reopening without Haida consent

Conservatives say police should be called into investigate WE charity scandal

Trudeau is already under investigation by the ethics commissioner for potential conflict of interest

Amber Alert continues for missing Quebec girls, 6 and 11, and their father

Police issued the alert for Norah Carpentier, 11, and Romy Carpentier, 6, from Levis, Que.

Limit police access to lethal weapons in Indigenous communities: Justice Summit

Grassroots-organized National Indigenous Justice Summit was a free-to-attend two-day videoconference

Mayors welcome rideshare expansion to eastern Lower Mainland

As of Thursday, Lyft is now offering service throughout Metro Vancouver

Most Read

l -->