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Canada launches its highly controversial digital charter

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If reports out of Canada are anything to go by, the country’s authorities have their work cut out for them. And it’s nothing less than to steer tech giants to move strongly towards controlling, and potentially stifling whatever online speech they might be in control of – yet somehow managing to foster this overall push in an atmosphere conducive to promoting nothing less than innovation.

Naturally, that’s not quite how the government would frame it.  That the goal of Canada’ Digital Charter is supposed to create “safety” on the web – by weeding out, that is, such dangerously broad and poorly defined categories as “hate speech” and “fake news.” Some might call it censorship – but that is not the criticism that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely to wince at.

After all, ’tis the season for governments to try to grab power in the tech domain; and in a way – it’s a clash of titans where the ordinary user/citizen seems destined to lose.

Only last week, the governments of France and New Zealand put together their Christchurch Call, said to be designed to combat extremist content online. Although it has been heeded by most G7 countries, and major tech players, it’s a call the US has not responded to, voicing fears that while positive in and of itself, the initiative didn’t look likely to be implemented in any way that would protect the freedom of speech and expression – i.e., not the way the United States understands these essential democratic standards.

No such concerns seem to be present north of the border, however, as Canada has not only signed on to the Christchurch Call but now has an initiative all of its own, just to be on the safe side.

Trudeau explained the Digital Charter in the following way, proving that a politician doesn’t necessarily have to mince words every time:

“The platforms are failing their users, and they’re failing our citizens. They have to step up in a major way to counter disinformation. And if they don’t, we will hold them to account and there will be meaningful financial consequences.”

A serious accusation, and a threat – that’s what tech giants are now up against in Canada unless they find a way to implement “strong enforcement and real accountability” – whatever metrics that activity might be measured by.

The “enforcement and accountability” bit is one of the ten principles of the Charter, but likely, it’s a highlight. The rest – “universal access, safety and security, control and consent, transparency, portability, and interoperability…,” are all admirable goals.

But when the Charter, towards its end, mixes such messages as “strong democracy” and “strong enforcement” – don’t be surprised if freedom and democracy lovers are left scratching their heads.

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