CLTS faculty member Dr. Michael Geist has been awarded an Insight Grant by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to investigate new ways Canada can protect freedom of expression while addressing risks of online harm.
Dr. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-Commerce Law, earned a SSHRC Insight Grant for his project entitled “Internet Platforms and the Law: Toward a Canadian Model for Online Liability and Responsibility”. This project seeks to develop Canadian-based solutions that address risks of harm while also safeguarding freedom of expression, filling the current policy and data void with an ambitious agenda that includes theoretical and legal analysis, original field research, and the development of Canadian-specific policy reforms.
The liability of Internet intermediaries for the conduct of their users has long been one of the Internet’s most challenging policy issues. Governments once granted Internet platforms broad legal immunity from liability, but the risks associated with disinformation, cyber-bullying, online defamation, privacy breaches, copyright infringement and other harms has sparked a re-thinking of long-held policies. The demands for reform have come from seemingly every direction: privacy commissioners seeking rules on the removal of search results, politicians calling for increased efforts to address fake news and disinformation on Internet platforms, European regulations on content filtering, and Internet users wondering why the companies are slow to takedown allegedly defamatory or harmful postings.
The emerging appetite for heightened liability creates a particularly difficult challenge for middle power countries such as Canada, who also face the barrier of establishing domestic solutions in an increasingly complex global arena dominated by largely U.S.-based Internet companies. Unlike the U.S., which established immunity from liability for Internet services in the mid-1990s, Canada has not featured the equivalent legal safe harbours for third party content. In practice, that has meant the same companies that require court orders prior to the removal of content for claims originating in the U.S., may take down lawful content in Canada based on allegations without court oversight or review due to fears of legal liability.
Building on theoretical analysis pertaining to Internet intermediary liability, comparative legal and policy research, and the field work with project collaborators, the project will develop a Canadian model for online responsibility and liability. Students will play a critical role with active engagement on theoretical and applied research activities as well as experiential learning opportunities with collaborator organizations and other partners. The project will host a major conference in year three, feature openly licensed data sets from the field research, comparative legal data on global approaches to platform liability, and model provisions for future legal reforms.
Congratulations to Dr. Geist!