How familiar are these stories?
“When I got to work this morning, our Internet service was down. There was almost nothing I could work on without my online databases and email.”
“The place we went for holidays had no Internet or cell phone service. Wow, did I ever feel cut off from the world!”
These stories remind us of how integral the Internet has become in our lives. As a result our ears prick up when we hear such headlines as:
- Canadian government under international pressure to pass controversial Internet surveillance bill
- Internet freedom debate intensifies at UN conference
- Supreme Court Protects Privacy and the Cyberbullied in Discovery Judgment
Clearly, Internet law and policy has the potential to impact us.
Let’s look at some of the key online sources dealing with areas of law that are related to the Internet. We’ll begin with three broad-based organizations.
A good place to start is the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). Through student-centered research and advocacy, this clinic at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law represents consumer and other public interests in such areas as intellectual property, consumer protection in e-commerce, domain name governance, personal information protection and privacy. Within each topic area there are links to FAQs, relevant news articles and background commentary as well as information on law reform, litigation, CRTC proceedings, PIPEDA complaints, and CIPPIC projects.
If you want to expand your research to explore what is happening in the United States and internationally, a frequently referenced source is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF focuses on civil liberties issues related to technology. Their work involves defending digital rights in the courts, advising policymakers and educating the press and the public.
On a more basic level, MediaSmarts is dedicated to digital and media literacy. Its goal is that young people become informed digital citizens that are not just safe, but savvy. It provides materials for teachers, parents and others who work with youth. Some specific digital issues covered are cyberbullying, cyber security, online marketing, intellectual property, gambling, pornography and privacy. Although its target audience is young people, anyone could learn a lot on this site.
Then there are resources that focus on specific Internet-related issues. We’ll examine:
- consumer issues; and
- identity theft.
The wide range of content types and content creators on the Internet inevitably raises the issue of copyright. One of the pre-eminent authorities in Canada on this topic is Dr. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He is author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.
For teachers and students, the World Intellectual Property Organization provides some practical and appealing materials including a series of comic books exploring trademarks, copyright and patents. While they are primarily geared towards students from 8 to 12 years old, higher-level students and adults have found them useful in providing a basic understanding of IP issues.
When it comes to information about privacy, no one can beat the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. The plethora of materials on this site includes guidance, news releases, research, speeches, videos, podcasts and presentations. It also authors a lively site for youth (which includes a special section for parents and teachers) called myprivacy. mychoice. mylife.
For consumer issues, the Office of Consumer Affairs has a number of resources. Its Canadian Consumer Handbook has an article about shopping safely online. Also of interest to both consumers and businesses is the Canadian Code of Practice for Consumer Protection in Electronic Commerce.
The recently launched Canada Anti-Fraud Centre offers free, expert advice to Canadians who have become victims of identity theft and must undertake the often long and difficult road to recovering their identities. The Centre also strives to educate people about identity theft and to collect research on the nature of identity theft harms in Canada.
Bookmark some of these sites, and you’ll be ready to investigate the next time those headlines have you scratching your head about Internet law and policy.