Top Canadian Court Permits Worldwide Internet Censorship

Creating a “worldwide heckler’s veto” for repressive regimes.

By Aaron Mackey and Corynne McSherry and Vera Ranieri, Electronic Frontier Foundation:

A country has the right to prevent the world’s Internet users from accessing information, Canada’s highest court ruled on Wednesday.

In a decision that has troubling implications for free expression online, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a company’s effort to force Google to de-list entire domains and websites from its search index, effectively making them invisible to everyone using Google’s search engine

The case, Google v. Equustek, began when British Columbia-based Equustek Solutions accused Morgan Jack and others, known as the Datalink defendants, of selling counterfeit Equustek routers online. It claimed California-based Google facilitated access to the defendants’ sites. The defendants never appeared in court to challenge the claim, allowing default judgment against them, which meant Equustek effectively won without the court ever considering whether the claim was valid.

Although Google was not named in the lawsuit, it voluntarily took down specific URLs that directed users to the defendants’ products and ads under the local (Canadian) Google.ca domains. But Equustek wanted more, and the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that Google had to delete the entire domain from its search results, including from all other domains such Google.com and Google.go.uk. The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the decision, and the Supreme Court of Canada decision followed the analysis of those courts.

EFF intervened in the case, explaining [.pdf] that such an injunction ran directly contrary to both the U.S. Constitution and statutory speech protections. Issuing an order that would cut off access to information for U.S. users would set a dangerous precedent for online speech.  In essence, it would expand the power of any court in the world to edit the entire Internet, whether or not the targeted material or site is lawful in another country. That, we warned, is likely to result in a race to the bottom, as well-resourced individuals engage in international forum-shopping to impose the one country’s restrictive laws regarding free expression on the rest of the world.




The Supreme Court of Canada ignored those concerns. It ruled that because Google was subject to the jurisdiction of Canadian courts by virtue of its operations in Canada, courts in Canada had the authority to order Google to delete search results worldwide. The court further held that there was no inconvenience to Google in removing search results, and Google had not shown the injunction would offend any rights abroad.

Perhaps even worse, the court ruled that before Google can modify the order, it has to prove that the injunction violates the laws of another nation thus shifting the burdent of proof from the plaintiff to a non-party. An innocent third party to a lawsuit shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden or proving whether an injunction violates the laws of another country. Although companies like Google may be able to afford such costs, many others will not, meaning many overbroad and unlawful orders may go unchallenged. Instead, once the issue has been raised at all, it should be the job of the party seeking the benefit of an order, such as Equustek, to establish that there is no such conflict. Moreover, numerous intervenors, including EFF, provided ample evidence of that conflicts in this case.

Beyond the flaws of the ruling itself, the court’s decision will likely embolden other countries to try to enforce their own speech-restricting laws on the Internet, to the detriment of all users. As others have pointed out, it’s not difficult to see repressive regimes such as China or Iran use the ruling to order Google to de-index sites they object to, creating a worldwide heckler’s veto.

The ruling largely sidesteps the question of whether such a global order would violate foreign law or intrude on Internet users’ free speech rights. Instead, the court focused on whether or not Google, as a private actor, could legally choose to take down speech and whether that would violate foreign law. This framing results in Google being ordered to remove speech under Canadian law even if no court in the United States could issue a similar order.

The Equustek decision is part of a troubling trend around the world of courts and other governmental bodies ordering that content be removed from the entirety of the Internet, not just in that country’s locale. On the same day the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision issued, a court in Europe heard arguments as to whether to expand the right-to-be-forgotten worldwide.

EFF was represented at the Supreme Court of Canada and the British Columbia Court of Appeal by David Wotherspoon of MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman and Daniel Byma of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. By Aaron Mackey and Corynne McSherry and Vera Ranieri, Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Even after the malware epidemic WannaCry in May and the hoopla it caused, companies are still not prepared. Including US companies! Read…  These Large Companies, Still Using Unpatched or Bootleg Windows, Got Hit by Petya Ransomware Attack




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  38 comments for “Top Canadian Court Permits Worldwide Internet Censorship

  1. A Null Fisher
    Jun 28, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Internet =/ google

    Who cares if courts make Google even less relevant as a search engine?

    Censorship engines might be vogue now, but things in the land of the internet change fast.

    The more google censor, the more competitors get footfall and undermine googles entire business model.

    All Google have done is make the web a shit-hole.

    • Ed
      Jun 28, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      I gather you don’t like Google, but otherwise your post makes my head hurt.

      Who cares if courts make Google even less relevant as a search engine?
      >> The success of Google hardly seems to be the main issue here. The legal theory could allow any one country to hide undesirable facts from the whole world.

      Censorship engines might be vogue now, but things in the land of the internet change fast.
      >> Come again? Censorship will never go out of style. Censorship is super popular! Always has been. It’s true for high people like Turkey’s Erdogan but also low people. It’s silly to have to say it but if the manager of a Olive Garden could readily stop the staff from bad-mouthing him behind his back, I predict many, probably most, managers would.

      All Google have done is make the web a shit-hole.
      >> Google did that? They are best at search so I suppose if you think the internet is a sh-t-hole, you could blame them for making it easy to find the sh-it in the hole. My experience on the internet, though, is that you find what you are seeking.

      • Ken
        Jun 28, 2017 at 7:53 pm

        Couldn’t you just register and host your website in a country friendly to free speech? Don’t forget Google is a business and you have the right to privacy.

        • Jun 28, 2017 at 7:56 pm

          “right to privacy” has been done away with.

        • John
          Jun 29, 2017 at 7:08 am

          Ken, are you saying that ‘businesses’ have the right to free speech, when you must know that individuals, at least not the common type, do not? If so maybe I should get incorporated! lol

      • A Noo Sol
        Jun 29, 2017 at 6:50 am

        I suppose it depends how much you want to shape the world in which you live, or how much you want others to do it on your behalf with a twist of skim and corruption, or a whole dose of it.

        No country can hide facts by blocking Google search results.
        You DO know that there are other search engines.
        Even if they all ‘hide’ results, you could be finding urls elsewhere, like in a discussion thread here.
        Even if they block dns, you can get an IP address for an uncensored dns, or just ip direct to any URL you want.

        There are a million steps to complete censorship.
        If all the low hanging fruit get caught using Google who cares?
        If people are that stupid to use Google already, then they’re already being given biased results to searches.

        If you don’t like that, then you can either lobby against the courts (haha), or just become a piece of fruit high up the tree and ignore these very basic censorship efforts.

        I’d worry when connections into other countries get blocked.
        But search results from google? Boo hoo.

        Google made the web a shit hole yes.
        Do you ever look how many script, font and img references on any website hook back to Google?

        How needlessly complex it’s become just so Google can track and advertise to you?

        Even if you don’t use their search, you’re still using their ‘service’ via proxy on almost all websites you’ll find.

        Avoiding it can break websites.

        Blocking their tracking often results in you doing AI/NN teaching captcha lessons to prove you’re ‘real’ and doing some work in return for not being a known web user they can advertise to.

        And it’s all to keep their advertising revenue rolling in, despite it being increasingly clear it’s efficacy isn’t what is claimed, and many seeing that whole paradigm of web advertising as a ‘bad thing’

        Google AMP is further evidence of them wanting people to think Google == internet.

        Block Google on your hosts/firewall and all the advertising domains etc, and see how the web is about 10x faster, with much less tracking and much lower malware risk etc.
        Then see how many websites stop working.

        You’re already supporting the thing you despise by supporting the Google offerings.
        If the courts hadn’t done what they had, Google would probably put those websites on page 100 and/or not scan them very often etc any way.

        Google were great in the 90s when a search suddenly started working as you’d expect.
        Since about 2004 when they said ‘do no evil’ they have increasingly done the opposite.

    • chip javert
      Jun 29, 2017 at 6:56 pm

      A Null Fisher

      Hard to understand all your emotional stuff regarding Google. I think you’re shooting the messenger in accusing them of making the web a sh*t-hole.

      Google – for the most part, indexes & provides content URLs provided by others (plus a few ads here and there).

      There are several other quite good choices for you to use as a search engine.

      Carpe Diem! Carpe search engine, dude.

  2. Bob
    Jun 28, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    Can’t wait to see what happens if Google decides to ignore this idiocy.

  3. cdr
    Jun 28, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Google can’t see a lot of the dark internet. You need DuckDuckGo or Tor for it. Probably others, too. To use a phrase – nothing-burger. They are kidding themselves. Google is only one of many. They get to sue the wind now. Have fun with lawyers, people.

    • cdr
      Jun 28, 2017 at 5:07 pm

      Here’s a solution. Create a registry of ‘do not index’ sites. Nobody can index it. Now, only hackers can scan them since there’s a list of who not to index and it must be public for it to work. I’m scanned probably 1000 times daily or more. So are you. It’s perfectly legal. From all over the world. Even Russia. So are you. Open ports can be cataloged. Good way to stand out by being on the list. Hacker fun.

      Or, maybe they’re really stupid and you can’t index me, John Smith. Ok to index that other John Smith. Just not me.

      • cdr
        Jun 28, 2017 at 5:28 pm

        By ‘you are scanned probably 1000 times a day’ I mean everyone with a router. Even your old granny. And it’s perfectly legal. Horrors.

        • Peter Pervis
          Jun 29, 2017 at 7:28 am

          People need to learn a bit about the kit and services they use.

          Internet has been made ‘simple’ but by treating it that way just leaves you exposed to the wolves, many of whom are gov sponsored wolves.

          I’d say it’s like trusting the police to always be there to catch burglars, rather than applying enough security and common sense to mean you’re not low hanging fruit.

          Yet people still leave windows wide open, doors unlocked, and random window cleaners with loose lips peer into all their homes!

    • cdr
      Jun 28, 2017 at 5:18 pm

      Or – I will sue you if you index me. Now, you get arrested and it’s public information. Or your name gets printed in the newspaper and it’s public information. I said ‘don’t index me dammit.’ Well, can I index the newspaper or the courthouse or the tales from your victim? Or should a black bar be painted over your name everywhere including the newspaper? Silliness alert.

  4. Bruce
    Jun 28, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    With CB and the fed big bisness rigging the so called markets I try to stay away from it now save my money and watch from the sidelines. I particularly stay away from Face book so full of BS I don’t need or want to no

  5. Jim Graham
    Jun 28, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    I support the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) financially. Have for a long time. Not big amounts, but every little bit helps. I appreciate the work they do on OUR behalf.

    I would suggest that everyone go to https://www.eff.org/ and look at some of the work they do.

    In my opinion the Supreme Court of Canada went toooooooo far and overstepped their bounds – and jurisdiction….

    • Enquiring Mind
      Jun 29, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      EFF website has some good software, too. Recommend bookmarking them and checking on their site from time to time as part of what is now becoming routine computer (daily life?) maintenance.

  6. SimplyPut7
    Jun 28, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    The various levels of the Canadian government and regulators have always had a ‘Don’t question my authority’ attitude that never diminished with globalization.

    This ruling doesn’t surprise me.

  7. shipshock@wateraboard.com
    Jun 28, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Why do people use a website that is obviously so corrupt and evil? searches are rigged, personal information sold to the highest bidder. search engines can’t be that hard to create. one day there will be thousands of search engines and these creepy companies will move into the category of Atari. probably will still have a PE of 10,000,000.

    • chip javert
      Jun 29, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Uhhhh…my guess is probably because they don’t agree with your accusation in any form.

      Since you consider search engines so easy to create, you just might be unaware of the billions of back-room hardware & telecoms (plus associated technicians) required to run one.

  8. chip javert
    Jun 28, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Yup, I REALLY want a government (the same people who run the DMV) deciding what I should and should not see on the internet (/sarc for those who need it).

    Glad the US Constitution explicitly rules this out. If Canada is serious about giving censorship a go, good luck.

    • Wilbur58
      Jun 28, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Chip,

      Sorry, but you seem to smart to keep regurgitating, “Government bad… because DMV!”

      Please enlighten us with your improved, private version of a DMV? Who would keep record of everyone’s automobile ownership in the event of an accident or other crimes? If it goes private, who is it responsible to? What’s from keeping the private owners from manipulating the records all it wants?

      Do you support a private police force and fire department? The latter has proven disastrous in recent years.

      DMV works perfectly fine. Make an appointment and the service is pretty darn efficient. Keep in mind how many people they have to service every minute of every day.

      When I pay for my registration each year, the sticker reaches my mailbox within a week or so. Ditto if I ever need to get a new license.

      The US Postal Service and the DMV work perfectly well. And as I’ve already told you, the USPS is even fiscally sound. The only reason it’s been made to look otherwise was due to an appalling political stunt in congress by Republicans, your favorite people. “Henceforth… the USPS must have complete funding for all retirements 75 years into the future!” Oh, look. They’re insolvent! So now, let’s cut that so we can justify a tax cut for the rich because that like… provides jobs or something… despite the fact that it doesn’t!

      Please enlighten me on how corporate oligarchies in telecom, cable tv, utilities (Enron, yay!), and for profit health insurance accomplish their missions so much more efficiently and professionally than the DMV. If you can’t do it, then please refrain from the simple minded, “Government is bad!!! Because, like… uh… DMV! Of course, look at DMV! Just like, DMV!”

      • Dan Romig
        Jun 29, 2017 at 6:38 am

        One thing my state of Minnesota’s DMV does that is ‘bad’ is a direct result of the Legislative and Executive branches of government. You see, in Minnesota you pay the state a 6.875% sales tax when purchasing a car.

        But Minnesota takes this one step further by charging more for the annual license tab renewal based on the vehicle’s age and value; not based on the vehicle’s weight and corresponding wear on the roads.

        My state punishes success, but why not make people who drive a Porsche pay more each year than those that drive a Chevy Cruze. After all they can afford it or they wouldn’t drive a Porsche, eh?

        Yes, to me that is a glaring example of “Government is bad!” In response to my state’s policy of financial punishment for driving a nice new car, I’ll keep rolling on in my 1995 SC400.

        • Wilbur58
          Jun 29, 2017 at 10:22 am

          Hi Dan,

          Of course you pay sales tax on a new car. Why wouldn’t you? That’s true of every state with a sales tax, I would think.

          From there… are you seriously bemoaning the notion of having to pay $200-$300 more per year for a Porsche over a Toyota Camry? Seriously?

          That’s called a progressive tax structure and it’s the basis for a healthy economy. The rich pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the poor. It’s a good thing.

          Fear not… the social security tax is highly regressive. The rich stop paying it for income above $127,200.00. And then there are the capital gains and dividends tax rates in the 15%-20% range. This is while most middle class labor is at 25%.

          The system is rigged for the rich and not the middle class or the poor. Why do you think income inequality is through the roof?

          My original challenge was to offer a better private alternative to the DMV. Until yourself of Chip Javert can do so, I suggest changing your tune and thinking about which areas of society should be public and which should be private… instead of just the religious zealotry behind, “Goverment = bad!… Just ’cause like… bad! Look at DMV! I hate waiting in line!”

          Meanwhile, you’re on hold with your private cable company for 20 minutes.

          Now, if you want to lower sales and FICA taxes, I support that so long as the proper adjustment is made to increasing land and capital gains taxes way higher to where they should be. That way asset prices fall and the rich pay a far more appropriate share of their gains in taxes.

        • Dan Romig
          Jun 29, 2017 at 12:50 pm

          Thank you for asking, and yes I am seriously bemoaning the Minnesota license tab fees.

          Once the state sales tax is paid, there is a huge difference in yearly fees for the same damn pair of plastic stickers that need to be put on one’s plates. If I owned a two year old mid-level Porsche that retailed for $99,000, my tab fees would be $1,259, but my current tab fees are $51.

          I respectfully disagree that this ‘Progressive tax structure’ is the basis for a healthy economy. In fact, I have a $1,208 incentive to avoid contributing to the economy by purchasing a new expensive car; which I could, if I chose to do so.

          I have no beef with the state DMV, and I do not believe it should be privatized, but the renewal fees should be the same no matter what one drives-after the state takes it cut from sales tax at initial purchase.

          The federal income tax is indeed rigged towards the Uber-elite as you state via capital gains and dividends, but there’s a simple solution to this that is the epitome of fair and just.

          The USA should implement a flat tax that treats all income equally, but the first $2,000 to $2,500 of monthly income should be without any federal tax liability. A living wage should bear no taxation, but after that, every dollar earned whether wages, capital gains, dividends or carried interest should be taxed equally!

        • chip javert
          Jun 29, 2017 at 7:18 pm

          Wilbur58

          Claiming the US Post Office (lost 40% of its volume to email, & still losing volume) and its now-better-funded (but still $80B underfunded) pension plan as examples of “good government” (along with the ever-popular DMV) might not be the strongest argument you could have come up with.

        • Anon2017
          Jun 29, 2017 at 9:20 pm

          Dan: California has a similar annual registration fee based on the car’s value. It’s like a personal property tax and the proceeds go to local governments. Your complaint reminds me of the old Senator Russell Long quote: Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax the man behind the tree. In spite of all the complaints about California’s taxes, the population has grown by about 15 million since I moved here 40 years ago. The state of Wyoming, with no personal income tax has fewer people than San Francisco.

      • chip javert
        Jun 29, 2017 at 6:35 pm

        Wilbur58

        Ooops, sorry if you work for the DMV.

        Actually, the vast majority of what the DMV does isalready duplicated by insurance companies. They even have an incentive to REALLY get bad drivers off the road AND make a profit.

        EXAMPLE: What does the DMV do to mitigate poor driving of teenagers that is different than what they do for the rest of the driving population? Answer: nothing. What do insurance companies do? Charge rates that make it prohibitive for repeat offenders to afford to drive (at lest legally).

        The reason I use the DMV as an example of failed government (and a reason not to have even bigger government) is because the vast majority of citizens interact with the DMV and instantly relate to it. If that upsets you, go fix the DMV.

        Government uses agencies such as the DMV as a jobs program more than a customer service.

        • alex in san jose
          Jun 29, 2017 at 7:38 pm

          I’ve had many dealings with the DMV over the years and they have been consistently excellent. Not just good. Not just OK. Excellent.

          Same goes for the US Post Office. 10 years on Ebay on my own, before click-and-ship, where I had to wait in line and have everything weighed in, no problems. Now there’s click and ship, same thing, no problems. The people at the counter may have funny accents or even wear a turban (Sikhs) but they’re consistently above average at their job.

          The US Post Office is doing really well because just like the “paperless office” was *not* going to have us buying paper by the literal reams, email has destroyed the letter and small package business … not. In fact FedEx and UPS both shunt packages over to the USPS so you can order something shipped by UPS, say, and the US mail truck will deliver it.

      • chip javert
        Jun 29, 2017 at 6:44 pm

        Wilbur58

        Just for the record, I never mentioned anything about privatizing the DMV – that was you (especially in your response to Dan), and I have no clue what inspired you to say it.

        I simply referenced the DMV as EXACTLY the wrong government attitude to be selecting what it’s citizens can and cannot se on the internet.

  9. AC
    Jun 28, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    I wonder how much Google would need to spend to topple the Canadian government?

    • raxadian
      Jun 28, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Google doesn’t even need to expend much money, just block all Google domains minus the Canadian one from Canadians IPs. There, Canadians can no longer access the other sites results so they “do not operate in Canada.” And the whole thing falls to pieces.

      In fact Google might end doing that for every country that does lawsuits like that, if they get feed up with stuff like this.

  10. R Davis
    Jun 29, 2017 at 2:31 am

    “The defendants never appeared in court”

    Q:
    Why not?
    Is it that this scenario was a set up / put up job to somehow benefit Google?
    To allow Google to censor & / but not take the blame.

    A while ago Google shares fell rather seriously – where they overpriced to begin with ? – & “who cares” – there are so many other alternatives waiting to replace Google. Never is the internet going to remain as it is today. There will be a fall from Riches to Rags – one day soon we may find Mark Zuckerberg on the dole cue.
    Hey – it happens often.

    The turnover in all facets of computer technology is running at super speed – AND IT IS FOR SURE – that the establishment is not pleased – with access to any & all information – maybe they can see their eminent undoing somewhere into the future. But guys – it is too late – the horse has bolted.
    The auto industry was never an industry to upgrade in any hurry & still they procrastinate – today’s cars are only a fraction of what they should be – they dress them up with trinkets only – it’s like getting a few plastic toys in a Corn Flakes box.

    I smell a dead rat – desperation make people do all kinds of crazy things.

    • R Davis
      Jun 29, 2017 at 3:05 am

      In broad daylight – the market does not owe you diddly squat – you either come up with the goods or you don’t.

      “Oh, but we owe him/them our loyalty”
      A brand new & more vibrant system is available & you will say
      “No thank you”
      Because you are polite &/or insane is all.

      If they passed you in the street & you were short of a buck …. “Please sir – could you spare a dime?” & their security guard would manhandle you in no uncertain terms.
      Hey – it’s a dog eat dog world.

  11. mean chicken
    Jun 29, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Is Canada a Socialist country?

    That’s been my observation, but I cautiously credit them for a functional healthcare system.

    • Bob
      Jun 29, 2017 at 9:49 am

      mean chicken, yes and you’re wrong (sorrr-eee :-)

    • alex in san jose
      Jun 29, 2017 at 7:45 pm

      Mean Chicken – There’s a simple test: Do the workers own the means of production?

      Canada seems to be just a slightly more liberal version of the US with decent healthcare (the one area they really stand out from the US, along with every other first-world country).

    • Anon
      Jun 29, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      No one goes bankrupt because of unpaid medical bills in Canada, but sometimes they die waiting for treatment e.g. Jerry Yanover, a retired Liberal party consultant who died in July 2009 waiting for his heart surgery which had been scheduled for September of that year. We were both born in the same calendar year. Almost 8 years later, I am still around and he isn’t. I have received timely, competent medical care in the US but I can afford the premiums and the co-pays. My $6,000 maximum annual co-pay would not break me financially but it would break some people in both countries.

  12. tony
    Jun 29, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Watch netflix called Nobody speak trials of the free press. Very interesting show.

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