25 July 2005

Tel-us Another One

Telus is playing dirty with its union, and it may be the one who ultimately ends up with mud on its face. According to this, among other, reports, Telus has blocked access from its customers to the Telecommunications Workers Union's website, Voices for Change. According to their website, as of today, " TWU members have been without a contract for 1667 days and last received a general wage increase 2032 days ago." As the website tells it,
Customers who use telus.net as their Internet Service Provider are unable to access this website due to censorship by TELUS. When support was called on July 23, they claimed not to be blocking access. Numerous TV, radio and print media have picked up this story, after receiving calls from outraged TWU members. The story will become national when Global National airs a story tonight. TELUS has since admitted to blocking this site, although support was still denying the blocking after the fact.
But management does not deny the blocking. Their excuse is that there are parody photos of some members of management on the site, and "Telus vice-president of business solutions Bruce Okabe [said] yesterday. "It would be morally negligent for us to tolerate this kind of behaviour."

Of course Mr. Okabe doesn't consider the moral negligence of denying freedom of speech, or actively censoring the content that customers can access. It's in this latter aspect that the mud is kicked up. You see, all of the ISPs have vigorously argued in the courts that they are but common carriers, not responsible for the content of their users. If there is notice of an infraction of the law - posting illicit materials, for example - they are to (well, soon will be required to) notify the customer of the alleged infringement or illegality. Of course, a court order to inactivate the account would work too. But they do not have the power to unilaterally censor materials of their own accord. That's vigilanteism, and it's not legal. What's more, as Michael Geist points out, this is "dangerous for the ISPs themselves, who risk seeing this blow up in their face as part of the ongoing telecommunications policy review that is considering the appropriate regulatory framework for those same ISPs."

Telus it ain't so!

Update (3 Aug 2005): According to the OpenNet Initiative, a joint program among U of T's Citizen Lab, Harvard's Berkman Centre, and Cambridge's Advanced Network Research Group, Telus's actions also blocked 766 other sites hosted on the same server! Talk about collateral damage!

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