Digital innovation needs confidence and leadership

Geist-48X68.jpgPosted by Michael Geist
OTTAWA — Following are extracts from Michael’s remarks to Canada's Digital Economy Conference earlier this week, a private gathering hosted by Industry Minister Tony Clement, who committed at the meeting to consult Canadians this summer on new copyright legislation to be introduced in the fall. Heritage Minister James Moore was also there, cheerleading the digital intiative with comments such as “. . . the opportunities are unbelievable and unparalleled in human history.”
Extracts from Michael’s talk on Canada’s Digital Economy: Toward A Safer, Stronger Online Marketplace
Let me begin by thanking Minister Clement — both for the invitation to speak here today and more importantly for his leadership on this critical issue. We all recognize the importance of the digital environment for commercial, cultural, educational, and communication purposes. Canada was once a proud leader in this arena and I think most would acknowledge that we have failed in recent years to articulate much-needed vision, strategy, and perhaps most importantly — urgency.

Minister Clement opened today’s conference by citing confidence as one of his key concerns. I think he’s identified a crucial concern. Privacy and security are key components in instilling this confidence, but there are other issues. I recently wrote about a digital action plan and I want to tease out several points that arise within the context of building confidence.
1. E-commerce consumer protection
The online marketplace has evolved dramatically in recent years and Canada needs an e-commerce consumer protection framework to match. In this regard, I think Minister Clement should be congratulated for introducing Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. While often described as anti-spam legislation, it is really much more. It addresses phishing, spyware, and consumer control over their personal computers. It sets the right standard of opt-in consent that may eventually be applied across all consumer marketing.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that some business groups — though not all — the Canadian Marketing Association for example was extremely supportive during hearings last week — have been outspoken in their efforts to water down this legislation. . .
2. Openness
Confidence also comes from greater openness and transparency. After years of closed, “walled garden” approaches, the world is embracing the benefits of openness. The City of Vancouver recently adopted an openness policy that establishes a preference for open standards, open source software, and open government data. The federal government should do the same, promoting the use of cost-effective open source software and the benefits of commercial and civic activity around accessible government data. . .

3. Confidence in our networks
Minister Clement opened the conference by acknowledging our slipping rankings when it comes to issues such as broadband and network infrastructure.I believe that there is diminishing confidence in Canada — sinking international rankings and incidents that raise questions about network management practices have left businesses and consumers alike concerned about our wired and wireless infrastructure. Confidence in those networks extends beyond just mere access, however. It involves world-class speeds, fair pricing, transparent marketing, and appropriate network management practices. This is by no means just a consumer issue - businesses big and small similarly depend upon these principles. . .
4. Confidence in Copyright
It will come as little surprise that my fourth issue is confidence in Canadian copyright. A digital strategy must be about more than just the infrastructure — the content on the networks is a key issue for the digital economy and copyright plays an important role in that regard. I’d like to touch on confidence in copyright from two perspectives — both the law and the reform process.
Let me start first with the process, which I believe has severely undermined the confidence of thousands of Canadians. With respect, the process that led to C-61 did little to instill public confidence, with no public consultation and the sense that the process was being driven primarily by a select group of interests. . .

Finally, a word about leadership. Minister Clement has obviously shown a keen interest in these issues and leadership with today’s event. But we need to build a leadership team — for example, a Canadian Chief Technology Officer and a clear position for digital issues at the cabinet table would also feed confidence. There needs to be a sense of urgency here — there is simply no more time to waste. Click here to read the whole of Michael's talk.

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