Canada’s golden opportunity to restore trust online

We’ve all been there: it might be an email, a text or a link on social media but right away something seems off about it. Should you click the link? Is it a virus? Fake news? A phishing attempt? Or just your uncle sending you another meme? The longer your finger hovers over the link the more anxious you feel.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With Canada’s federal election underway, we have a golden opportunity for candidates from across the political spectrum to commit to pro-internet principles that will help restore trust online.
Canadians love the internet. While the dark side of the web fills the headlines, there’s no doubt that we’re better off because of it. It has transformed our society in ways we could never have imagined — it connects us, entertains us, employs us — but, let’s face it: the internet is going through a bit of a rough patch right now.

The growing perception of the internet is one of danger and mistrust. From spotty rural access to massive data breaches, misinformation and beyond, growing numbers of people think that something needs to be done. How policy-makers choose to respond will significantly shape the future of Canada’s internet and our society.

Thankfully, we’re confident that with the right vision and leadership, Canada’s internet can remain an engine of innovation, free expression, and economic opportunity.

Thursday morning my organization, the Canadian internet Registration Authority (CIRA), released its vision for the future of Canada’s internet. Working with technologists, policy experts, and industry partners, we’ve crafted a set of principles that we believe will help ensure the internet remains open, trusted, and people-centred.

We’re inviting all candidates, regardless of their political affiliation, to embrace these principles and help ensure that Canada’s internet thrives. Here’s how they break down:

First, policy-makers must ensure the internet remains open. Openness is at the foundation of what makes the internet great, and has enabled unprecedented innovation, competition, and free expression. In fact, many of the corporations who lobby lawmakers every day to reshape the rules of the web have benefitted from its open nature. Our leaders must resist such pressure, and ensure the internet remains a level playing field for innovation.

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Second, we must help reverse the erosion of trust in the internet. Data breaches and widespread privacy invasions undermine confidence in our increasingly digital and data-driven economy. The internet is built on trust, which cannot exist without protecting user privacy and security. If Canadians cannot trust that their data and networks are secure, they will be reluctant to embrace Canada’s digital economy.

Finally, our elected leaders must pledge to put people — the everyday users of the web — at the centre of Canada’s internet. Access to high-quality internet connections have given more people a voice than ever before.

Unfortunately, access remains out of reach or too expensive for many. Much like the highways and railroads of decades past, the internet is the backbone for Canada’s economy and it is the responsibility of government to ensure everyone is connected, regardless of where they live or how much money they make.

However, merely having access is not enough. Canadians also require the tools, skills, and knowledge to succeed on the internet. Governments at all levels must do more to promote digital literacy through our education system, and ensure major tech platforms make their rules and data policies clear and understandable.

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It’s heartening to see that several of Canada’s federal parties have begun to embrace some of these principles. We look forward to a healthy debate about how to enact them.

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At CIRA, we believe strongly that the future of the internet and the future of Canada are inextricably linked. We call on governments at all levels, political parties of any affiliation, and leaders of all stripes to embrace an open, trusted and people-centred internet as the key to Canada’s future health, prosperity and democracy.

Byron Holland is president and CEO of the Canadian internet Registration Authority (CIRA), which manages the .CA domain on behalf of Canadians.

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