Facing criticism from Canadian business, political, and legal leaders that it is trying to invade the privacy of companies, the Liberal government has backed down from its attempt to order Google and Facebook to produce records of communications with third parties on proposed government legislation.
At a meeting today, the House of Commons Heritage committee agreed to a Liberal motion to only ask the two tech giants to produce internal — and not external — communications involving opposition to the legislation.
The uproar began last week when Liberal MP, Chris Bittle, who is parliamentary secretary to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, proposed a motion requiring Google and Facebook to turn over two years of internal and external communications with other companies or individuals.
[Correction: The original version of the story wrongly said the motion was proposed by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather]
The motion relates to the committee’s work looking into “current and ongoing use of intimidation and subversion tactics to avoid regulation in Canada” related to industry opposition to Bill C-18. That legislation aims to help some Canadian news organizations by forcing dominant digital platforms to negotiate and compensate news content providers for linking to their sites.
What incurred the ire of the Heritage committee is that Google, which opposes the proposed law as a “link tax,” has been testing how it might restrict showing Canadian news results on searches as a way of protest.
That led Bittle to introduce the motion requiring the company to produce internal and external documents related to actions the companies planned to take in relation to any Canadian regulation since Jan. 1, 2020.
The public response by some was heated. In a blog Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor of internet law, said the proposal was “a stunning disregard for privacy and which could have a dangerous chilling effect on public participation.”
Then the Canadian Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to the Heritage committee expressing “deep concern.” The demand “poses a serious threat to the privacy of Canadians and to their rights to hold and express opinions on public issues. In addition, adopting it would put a chill on the legitimate work of thousands of associations, chambers of commerce, unions, social action groups, not-for-profits, and private enterprises across the country,” the letter says in part.
This morning, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the committee, Liberal MP Housefather proposed removing the word “external” from his motion, so companies would only have to produce internal communications regarding Canadian regulations. That change was approved.
Google says Kent Walker, its president of global affairs and chief legal officer, and Richard Gingras, vice-president of news, will meet with the committee. A date has not yet been set.
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