Canada's Bell Tried To Have VPNs Banned During NAFTA Negotiations

from the missing-the-point dept

Countries around the world continue to wage a not particularly subtle war on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and encryption. In Russia, the government has all but banned the use of VPNs by layering all manner of obnoxious restrictions and caveats on VPN operators. The goal, as we've seen in China and countless other countries, is to ban VPN use without making it explicitly clear you're banning VPN use. The deeper goal is always the same: less privacy and online freedom for users who use such tools to dodge surveillance or other, even dumber government policies.

Of course there's plenty of companies eager to see VPN use banned as well, whether it's the entertainment industry hoping to thwart piracy, or broadcasters trying to hinder those looking to dance around geographical viewing restrictions. Lost in the hysteria is usually the fact that VPNs are just another security tool with a myriad of purposes, most of which aren't remotely nefarious and shouldn't be treated as such.

Apparently, you can count Canadian telecom incumbent Bell among the companies hoping to ban VPN use. Anja Karadeglija, the editor of paywalled telecom news outlet the Wire Report, obtained documents this week highlighting how Bell had been pushing Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for a VPN ban to be included in NAFTA negotiations. Why? It doesn't want users using VPNs to watch the US Netflix catalog:

"In its submission, Bell argued that Canadians accessing content from a US service with a VPN “unjustly enriches the US service, which has not paid for the Canadian rights” but nonetheless makes that content available to Canadians. Bell’s media arm reportedly spends millions on content for it streaming service, Crave TV, which allows Canadians to stream content from American networks such as HBO and Showtime."

Again though, it's not the VPN doing that. And if you want to stop users from flocking to better content catalogs elsewhere on the continent, you should focus your ire on the things causing that to happen -- like increasingly dated and absurd geo-viewing restrictions, and your own substandard content offerings that fail to adequately match up. That message was lost on Bell, however:

“Canada should seek rules in NAFTA that require each party to explicitly make it unlawful to offer a VPN service used for the purpose of circumventing copyright, to allow rightsholders to enforce this rule, and to confirm that it is a violation of copyright if a service effectively makes content widely available in territories in which it does not own the copyright due to an ineffective or insufficiently robust geo-targeting system,” the submission stated."

How exactly you're supposed to determine that somebody is using a VPN to not watch Bell's own television services isn't really explained, and the fact that enforcement would likely be technically impossible appears to have been an afterthought. As Canadian Law Professor Michael Geist was quick to note, trying to ban VPNs just as they're reaching critical mass as a partial solution to raging North American privacy scandals suggests Bell may not exactly have its finger on the pulse of common sense on this particular subject.

Filed Under: canada, streaming, trade agreements, usmca, vpn, vpns
Companies: bell canada


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  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 6:38am

    The question...

    ...to Bell Canada should be "how much revenue do you assume you've lost because of Canadians using VPN's to watch Netflix"?

    They'll inflate it to trillions.

    ..."and how much would it cost you to add Netflix to your offerings"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 6:54am

    The minister seems deluded. They think that VPNs are only used to access better entertainment options, and that the way to stop consumers demanding the better service is to prevent them from accessing the suppliers. No prizes for guess who is feeding them misinformation.

    "a VPN “unjustly enriches the US service"

    "Bell’s media arm reportedly spends millions on content ... from American networks"

    Then... surely the answer is to account for this in the negotiations and get a better deal than you would if Canadians couldn't access any content from across the border? Is that too sensible?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 6:55am

    Instead, ban infrastructure providers from owning ISPs, TV

    Large infrastructure providers including Bell and Rogers own basically all the last-mile wires in Canada, and have always had huge conflicts of interest with end-users. They'll do the bare minimum required by law to support third-party ISPs, if that, while lobbying for rule-changes that would increase their profits (which are absurdly high already by worldwide standards). As in the UK, Canada should use functional separation to put a stop to this and ensure the last-mile providers are working for their users. That is, ensure no company controls more than one of: infrastructure, direct services (ISPs, email, VPNs, cable TV), content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      carlb, 1 Feb 2019 @ 7:04am

      Re: Instead, ban infrastructure providers from owning ISPs, TV

      There used to be a ban on Canadian broadcasting distribution undertakings (ie: cable TV and direct-broadcast satellite companies) owning broadcast stations. That ban (and the limit of one station per band owned by the same company in the same market) should never have been repealed. The rules were changed because Bell wanted to own CTV, the largest private terrestrial network broadcaster. What Bell wants, Bell gets, even though the public interest is inevitably harmed time and time again.

      I have no idea why these people are still licenced to broadcast.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 7:29am

        Re: Re: Instead, ban infrastructure providers from owning ISPs,

        I have no idea why these people are still licenced to broadcast.

        Sure you do:

        What Bell wants, Bell gets, even though the public interest is inevitably harmed time and time again.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:42am

          Re: Re: Re: Instead, ban infrastructure providers from owning IS

          Is the CRTC like the FCC, where the people in charge walk through a revolving door into a telco job when they're done?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 7:39am

    some companies will go to any lengths to get total control (and keep it!), including fucking up any and every other company on the way! this, unfortunately, a major downside to HAVING NO FREAKIN COMPETITION! so thank you very much you bunch of greedy, self-serving, asshole politicians!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon, 1 Feb 2019 @ 8:28am

    OH...

    Oh. Is that what Crave is? I never got interested enough to investigate. As some of the guys on my local radio said - "How many streaming companies are you actually going to subscribe t?" and the other guy answers…"Ummm. One."

    And that's the point - Netflix is available in Canada (with a slightly different selection). It's all the time I have, just to binge what's on Netflix. It would have to be an amazingly popular show to make me subscribe to anything more. So sorry Bell - your crappy customer service had already convinced me not to give you any more money before Crave came along.

    (Like the time I warranty-returned a satellite receiver and they tried to say it had not been received so I owed $600. Funny, I have the Purolator shipping waybill number right here; at which point, "oh, we found it." Yeah, I'm sure that was an honest mistake.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 10:45am

    I wonder what sort of mechanism they use to transfer large sums of money in order to conduct business. If they can not use a VPN, how is it done?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 11:22am

    Considering...

    That every claim that.. Russia did it.. China did it.. Someone else, besides us, DID IT.. With all this certainty of WHO did what..Why worry about VPN..

    I see both sides and the corps all pointing OUT/AWAY from themselves, and who ends up being the problem?? Still surrounded by 2 year olds..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Charles Norman (profile), 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:15pm

    If we sought after every single exceptionally rich individual and Fortune association authentically, we could take out the entire national commitment in only several years, with one genuine surplus left finished. Assignment Help UK

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:27pm

    However, VPNS outside of the USA, Canada, or Mexico would not be subject to the laws of those countries.

    A VPN service, in, say, Australia, would be not subject to US, Canadian, or Mexican laws, as long as they obeyed Australian law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dan Under, 1 Feb 2019 @ 9:47pm

      Re: Straya

      And as we all know, what the US Guv'mnt wants the Australian Federal Guv'mnt gives them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 6:36pm

        Re: Re: Straya

        VPN providers could still serve USA, Mexican, and Canadian subscribers by accepting payments in Bitcoin, and using the dark web to sell their services.

        The way bitcoin works, the person who purchased the service cannot be traced. The purchasers cannot be traced, especually if the VPN keeps no logs of who logs on.

        Bitcoin is just a file on someone's computer, so their is no central bank to keep track of transactions.

        In short, VPN services could have still served customers in the USA, Canada, and Mexico by using Bitcoin for paymebnt

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 6:44pm

    It appears that only commercial VPNs would be banned, and your own private VPN would be legal.

    When I am in, say, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I use my home VPN to bypass their filters, that does not break any laws.

    Circumventing KFC's filters, to say, access certain conservative sites they block, does not break any laws either in California, or at the Federal level.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Feb 2019 @ 7:06pm

    And if Turtledove's Timeline 191 were reality, one US prohibition on possessing or playing certain confederate songs, after the Second Great War would have been unenforceable.

    A server outside of the United States that allowed Americans to access the banned songs would have never been subject to prosecution in the United States, as they would only have to obey laws of whatever country the server was in.

    Dailymotion, for example, would not have been subject to that law, because it is in France. As a French site, only French and EU laws apply to them.

    If a site has no presence in the the USA, American laws do not apply.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Riders on the storm, 3 Feb 2019 @ 7:51am

    Reverse is true also...

    I think it can be said plenty of people used a service so they could watch shows in Canada.. I think I watched all of The Expanse and Star Trek Discovery this way.

    I simply cannot figure out why geofencing still exists? For old work not originally made during digital times I can see why..but not new content.. What does location have to do with it anymore?

    Why isnt Bell demanding the government jam tv signals coming across the border? "Those Victorians are getting...gasp...FREE tv from Seattle!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    joel lis, 3 Feb 2019 @ 11:52am

    all banks use VPN to secure the communication between their clients' devices and the bank's servers. ban them too? myopic dinosaur bell hasn't a leg to stand on and is so desperate to preserve their shrinking power/wealth they'll do or say anything, but, the banks are much larger and far more influential than any telco. what a pathetic bunch or criminal losers, IMO.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Feb 2019 @ 4:17pm

    One possible reason too could be those who use VPNs to avoid throttling. My cell phone provider, on its unlimited plan, throttles video higher than 480p, but I can get around that using a VPN, so they cannot see what I am doing.

    Using a VPN to defeat their throttling does not break any current laws. If I want to watch YouTube videos at 1080p, using a VPN to circumvent throttling, that does not break any current laws.

    And Metro, before they were bought by Tmobile, blocked tethered PCs from surfinf the web, by examining the traffic going out and determning that a PC was being used to surf the web and blocked it, though all other Internet traffic was not blocked.

    When I had to move on a moments notice a few years ago, and had to wait for Internet service to be installed, I used a VPN to bypass Metro's blocknig of web surfing from a PC. Using a VPN to access the web in that manner did not break any laws, either in California, or at the federal level. The only thing that sucked about having to use a VPN was that the server was outside the USA, and I could not access the US Netflix library. I ended up having to watch the Canadian and British Netflix selections, which are not as big as the US ones.

    And also, when I ran my VPN service on the side when I had my online radio station is that I used to see connections from high schools all over America going to social media. Those students that used my VPN to bypass school filtering did not break any laws using my filter to access social media.

    And when I saw connections from workplaces, on Cyber Monday, going to shopping sites, the employees at those companies did not break any criminal laws by using my service to bypass workplace filtering and take advantage of Cyber Monday sales. While they could have been fired, they could not have been prosecuted for anything,.

    That will be another argument to ban VPNs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2019 @ 6:46am

    Just the public

    They might ban the public using VPNs but you can be sure as hell that all intelligence services will be using them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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