Thank you, and I apologize for not being able to join you in person.
My name is Michael Beckerman and I'm the president of the Internet Association, an organization comprising 25 of the world's leading Internet companies. Our members are leaders in the Internet industry, and as an industry they are committed to providing ground-breaking services to help improve the world. The Internet Association is pleased to be able to share our views on Bill C-13, the act protecting Canadians from online crime.
The problem of bullying threatens people's ability to communicate safely and privately and can have significant consequences for the people involved. Whether it happens in a classroom, on the playground, or on a website, the consequences are exactly the same. It is not a problem that affects any one website, one school, or one medium.
It is clear that no one participant in our society can single-handedly solve this age-old problem. Instead, it's a problem that all stakeholders—families, friends, teachers and other community leaders, along with governments and the private sector—must work on to address collaboratively.
For its part, the Internet industry has worked proactively to address concerns about bullying that occurs online, through education campaigns, suicide-prevention efforts, and robust technical solutions to address bullying when it occurs.
A number of Internet companies, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Yahoo have partnered with a non-profit called SAVE, to launch Responding to a Cry for Help: Best Practices for Online Technologies, which is a guide for other established Internet companies and start-ups that share the best practices of leading tech companies for decreasing suicide risk among users.
Additionally, our members work closely with groups like the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, MediaSmarts, and others to develop targeted public education campaigns on digital literacy, [Inaudible--Editor] online habits, and anti-bullying resources. These efforts are key to stopping bullying before it begins.
A number of our member companies also partner with the Family Online Safety Institute, a global organization, and sponsor their “A Platform for Good”, which is designed to help parents and teachers along with teens to connect, share, and do good online, with the goal of improving online safety for all.
In terms of innovative online tools, our members have robust mechanisms to report abuse when it occurs, including easy-to-report abuse buttons and links that are tied to user-generated content. Our companies also have automated systems, as well as teams of people around the world who review, take down immediately, and respond to content that doesn't meet very strict terms of service and community guidelines.
Although there is no single solution to address the problem of online or offline bullying, we are proud of our members' leadership in bringing new ideas, new resources, and new technology to the table to help our community move forward on this important issue.
The Internet Association members understand that maintaining a safe society requires the involvement of law enforcement. Our members support law enforcement's important mission to maintain people's safety and security, but at the same time we recognize that people choose to use Internet-based services to store some of their most personal and private information. To that end, we believe that law enforcement should be subject to a heightened standard, such as the obligation to obtain a judicial warrant based on appropriate criteria, before obtaining access to people's content, whether that access occurs in cyberspace or the physical space.
Our members are committed to upholding their obligations to coordinate with legitimate law-enforcement investigations, and even go beyond those obligations by building positive relationships with law enforcement, working closely with them in appropriate circumstances. But we do not believe that promoting public safety requires a government to lower its standard for gaining access to people's private communications. Indeed, the public trust requires that we hold ourselves and our officials to the highest standards in this important area.
One of the most important tools used by our members to earn public trust is transparency. A number of our member companies publish the number and types of inquiries they receive from governments around the world. We continue to believe government should be as transparent as possible about the requests they make of companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others, and companies should be able to tell people when their information is being collected by the government, both individually in appropriate circumstances, and in the aggregate.
We are concerned that language in Bill C-13 moves us in the opposite direction. Specifically, subsection 487.019(1) would allow a judge to prohibit persons from disclosing the existence of some or all of the contents of the demand order that they preserve or produce people's private information.
While we recognize there may be limited cases where this kind of a disclosure would create a threat to public safety, this provision of Bill C-13 goes so far as to potentially enable the government to prohibit companies from disclosing even the existence of the demands by government authorities for data, including the number of such demands and whether information was handed over.
Our members publish this type of information because they believe that people should be able to understand the nature and extent of information their government is seeking about them. These reports help give people greater confidence in their governments, that they're acting in an appropriate and a restrained way when they request information about users. And it also helps people feel comfortable expressing themselves online.
We urge the committee to consider drafting this and other gag order provisions in Bill C-13 in a way that would, at a minimum, expressly permit companies to report the aggregate number of preservation and production orders they receive. By continuing to prohibit disclosure of the content of these demands and orders in very limited circumstances where the content of a specific order is particularly sensitive due to security concerns, it is possible to enable that transparency without compromising public safety or legitimate investigative efforts.
As others have noted in public commentary, the bill appears to grant the government powers either to forego a warrant when demanding preservation of data or to obtain a warrant based on lower standards than those currently applicable in the off-line world.
Today I'd like to focus in particular on the second part.
With due respect, we urge the committee to consider whether it is appropriate to lower the warrant standard for government access to individuals' content, as is currently contemplated in Bill C-13. As we understand the legislation, law enforcement agencies would only have to demonstrate to a judge that they have reasonable grounds to suspect that someone has committed a crime or will commit a crime to obtain a warrant. We understand that under current law, police officers must satisfy a higher standard of reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed before they can obtain a warrant.
In addition, the legislation appears to permit judges to consider a lower threshold for determining that the evidence resulting from a lawful search will afford evidence respecting the commission of an offence. Instead, they could grant warrants merely if they will assist in investigation. This is widely viewed as a far lower standard.
In the sensitive area of people's private information, particularly in circumstances where they may not know they are under investigation, it is important that we send a clear message to these people that these kinds of investigations will occur only in limited cases where a high bar has been met.
The Internet Association is concerned that lowering the standard in the way proposed by the bill would both erode privacy of individuals who use the Internet and also reduce the confidence in the government's respect to citizens' due process rights. In light of these concerns, we urge the committee to revert to the existing privacy protective standards in the current Criminal Code.
Our members are responsible companies that are committed to ensuring the safety of Canadian citizens online. The Internet industry will continue to innovate and develop cutting-edge technology and tools, and work on programs and partnerships to address cyberbullying and off-line bullying.
We value the committee's attention to this very important issue raised by Bill C-13. We appreciate the opportunity to present our views, and I look forward to answering any questions you may have.