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.

Just Posted

Plans for public boat launch to Sylvan Lake an eventual project

Lacombe County says they plan to work with surrounding municipalities on the project, eventually

Glass items no longer accepted in Sylvan Lake recycling program

The announcment was made Friday morning, caused by no market left for recycled glass

Sylvan Lake placed under severe thunderstorm warning

Environment Canada sent out the warning the afternoon of June 13

Walk for Common Ground sheds light on indigenous issues

Edmonton to Calgary walk includes 30 core walkers engaging communities along the way

PHOTO: Best of Sylvan gift card winner announced

The Sylvan Lake News ran a contest to find the Best of Sylvan one person drawn to win a gift card

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

No business case for Trans Mountain expansion, says former environment minister

Cabinet is expected to announce its decision on the expansion of the Alberta-to-B.C. pipeline by Tuesday

Alberta Mountie found not guilty of dangerous driving causing pedestrian’s death

RCMP Const. Michelle Phillips also found not guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm

Three Albertans land ‘monster’ sturgeon in B.C.’s Fraser River

For angler who landed the exceptionally large sturgeon it was an ‘incredible dream come true’

Toronto Raptors and their diverse team celebrated worldwide

Team is made up of players from the U.S., Canada, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Spain

Further murder charge laid after alleged targeted hits in two Alberta cities

Jimmy Truong, who is 27, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Louie Angelo Mojica

Pot edibles, topicals and extracts to hit shelves no earlier than mid-December: Ottawa

Health Canada wrapped its public consultation on the draft rules for cannabis products in February

We the North: Delirious fans celebrate as Raptors win NBA title

Supporters from all over Canada cheer Toronto’s triumph

Excited, anxious fans prepare for Raptors to play in Game 6 of the NBA Finals

The Raptors currently lead the Warriors 3-2 in the best-of-seven series

Most Read