I’m a law professor at the University of Ottawa where I hold the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. I write a weekly technology column for the Toronto Star and Ottawa Citizen, blog actively at michaelgeist.ca, tweet @mgeist, and serve on boards including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, and the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board.

I recently joined www.SurfEasy.com (a very cool privacy centric VPN provider) as an Advisor. If you have any questions about SurfEasy, the founder of the company Chris Houston is here as well. He's also brought some discounts and free account codes to hand out.

6:04 pm: Thanks to everyone for the discussion. SurfEasy’s provided a 20% discount code for all redditors, good until July 15th. Just use promo code bacon20

Comments: 156 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

Scientiam14 karma

Have you ever considered changing your first name to Polter?

Well... you did say ask you anything.

michaelgeist18 karma

Actually, it's the longstanding name of my (very mediocre) fantasy baseball team :)

SchindlerTheGrouch4 karma


Why are you against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?

michaelgeist13 karma

Thanks for the question. I was a advocate against ACTA throughout the negotiation process. While the final agreement was not as bad as initially contemplated, there remain significant concerns on substance, process (ie. how the agreement was reached with little transparency) and its impact on other agreements.

I appeared before the INTA Committee at the European Parliament to discuss my concerns. A video of my opening remarks is at


I also wrote a report for the committee that expands on the concerns. That is at


noam_chomsky694 karma

Do you consider yourself to be an influential non-state actor in the political process?

michaelgeist11 karma

I've tried to raise awareness on many digital policy issues, particularly in Canada. Given that I've had many appearances before House of Commons committees and been quoted regularly in the House, there may be some influence. That said, any influence is strongly correlated to broader public participation on digital issues. We've seen that happen on a number of occasions in Canada, including on copyright and lawful access.

newbie_013 karma

What do you think about the bitmakerlabs.com / Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities issue?

michaelgeist2 karma

Sorry - not familiar with it.

wpgcdn2 karma

Mr. Geist,

What are your thoughts on Canadian ISPs using major US cities such as Chicago, Seattle and New York for parts of their own backbone?

michaelgeist5 karma

Big issue with some connection to the our limited IXPs. CIRA's CEO Byron Holland has an excellent post arguing that more Canadian exchange points would reduce reliance on the US backbone. That post is here


(note that I am a CIRA board member)

angrypandarage2 karma

In 2001 you published "Is There a There There?" arguing for a targeted approach for courts finding personal jurisdiction in Internet-related cases back when the Internet and Internet-related litigation was still in its infancy. You followed it up in 2003 with Cyberlaw 2.0. 10 years later, has your opinion changed of jurisdiction and the Internet, given how the Internet has evolved in the last decade? How would you view the ability of a court to have jurisdiction over a party with a single transaction on eBay. Or, same question, for a transaction involving a dispute in a virtual world like Second Life?

michaelgeist3 karma

Glad someone reads my stuff. On Cyberlaw 2.0, I think I got it right. That article raised the possibility of identifying new intermediaries such as payment providers, delivery companies, etc. to exert influence over online activities. It think that is precisely what has happened with proposals such as SOPA, the response to Wikileaks, etc.

With regard to targeting and jurisdiction, I think we've seen many courts incorporate some of that language into their decisions. The bigger change has been the regulatory side, where governments have been more aggressive about asserting jurisdiction over online activities without much worry for the legal theory to support their actions.

twosheepforanore2 karma

Is there anything we can do to combat internet trolls without trampling on users' privacy?

michaelgeist6 karma

Good question. The issue was before the Federal Court of Canada earlier today in the Voltage - TekSavvy matter. The court is expected to rule in a few weeks, which will provide a better sense of how to balance some of these issues. Certainly the existence of a statutory damages cap of $5000 for all non-commercial infringement should make it hard to demand large settlements for alleged infringements.

Dinosaursgonomnomnom2 karma

Hello! What advice would you give someone looking to get into this area of law professionally. I came across some of your work when writing my dissertation last year which was on privacy with social networking.

michaelgeist1 karma

No simple recipe. I think the best way is to actively write on the issues, join some of the associations focused on the issues (CBA, IT.Can, etc.), try to speak before peers. It can take time to build a reputation in the field, but we've seen a number of people use social media and active work on associations to do it.

herpberp2 karma

are you hiring?

surfeasy2 karma

SurfEasy or Michael? Do you code? :)

herpberp2 karma

Michael. SurfEasy doesn't appear to be Free Software.

michaelgeist3 karma

I do hire summer research assistants, but they're typically from the law school.

sexyalterego2 karma

Noticed nobody had asked a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. What are your main concerns about that, and specifically about Canada's participation? What do you think is the most likely outcome of the negotiations?

michaelgeist3 karma

Glad you did. I outlined my concerns in an appearance earlier this month before the Standing Committee on International Trade. The opening remarks are here


The full transcript - including q & a's from MPs is at


As for the outcome, no one knows at this stage. The Canadian and US governments today said they have a plan to complete the negotiations this year, but that seems very unlikely.

soana2 karma

Michael, first I want to say thank you for being an articulate and vocal proponent of legal perspectives that benefit people, rather than corporations.

How can ordinary Canadians best exercise the rights we have in order to strengthen our freedom and privacy?

michaelgeist2 karma

Thanks for the kind words. I wish there was a simple formula, but there isn't. We need to vigilant about exposing abuses and the lack oversight. We need to meet with our elected representatives so they recognize that it is a concern and address the legislative shortcomings - lack of oversight, more power for the Privacy Commissioner, updated rules to reflect current surveillance realities. We need to better protect our own privacy - limit disclosures, use technologies to safeguard our information, and file complaints where appropriate.

CanadianVelociraptor2 karma

Question for Michael:

  • I'm studying Computer Science in university this fall, but have always been interested in digital rights and the various legal aspects of the web. I've thought about going into law school in order to become a lawyer that specializes in digital rights, technology, privacy, etc. but since law isn't really my passion (the technology is) I wonder if the effort of law school would be worth it for such a niche role. What can a CS major do to get involved with digital rights advocacy, and how important is it to study law when doing so?

Question for Chris:

  • Care to shed some light on the "bank-grade encryption" mentioned on the SurfEasy site? Knowing exactly what's going on behind the scenes would make me a lot more comfortable signing up for the service. How is traffic encrypted through your servers? Do employees have access to traffic data? A free account code would also be nice incentive for me to sign up :)

michaelgeist2 karma

It's hard for me to answer that question for you. I think that a tech-law combination is fantastic and very marketable (in fact, some IP firms only hire law grads with engineering degrees). That said, adding law school is a big commitment (financially and time-wise) so can understand why you might hesitate. FWIW, you definitely don't need a law degree to be an advocate on digital issue. In fact, sometimes the strictly tech background can be an advantage.

sonician2 karma

Hello Michael! I've been a long time follower on both your blog and Twitter. I guess this question is pretty straight-forward.

Do you think that with the recent NSA revelations, and the public opinion being that it's "not such a big deal", that we're reaching a turning point that anonimity and privacy will soon be a thing of the past?

For years you've worked hard to keep the public informed and knowledgable about what's going on, their digital rights, and so on, but yet the vast majority don't seem to care, or at least, don't mind it, in the "interests of national/international security".

The media has done an amazing job of towing the government line that this is all for a good reason, without much investigative journalism happening.

michaelgeist4 karma

I'm still more optimistic, but I must admit that it is increasingly hard to be. The reaction in Canada has been muted (to say the least) and many do seem resigned to increased surveillance. That said, I think there is still line for many people and that raising awareness, demanding better oversight, updating the rules to better reflect current surveillance capabilities, etc. are all still possible.

illunatic1 karma

USA's NSA spying: What are Canadians doing about it?

michaelgeist2 karma

Not much, in fact it seems as if we are actively involved in similar activities to harvest meta-data. Some of my posts on the Canadian perspective include

http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6876/125/ http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6870/125/ http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6869/125/

palealepizza1 karma

I know that the UK is doing the same. Why do you think it's such a major issue in the US, but not in places like Canada or the UK?

michaelgeist3 karma

Big issue in the US in part because of the leaks. I'm surprised there hasn't been more reaction in the UK to their leaks. As for Canada, it has received attention, but without more information about what is happening, some Canadians may wonder what they should be concerned about.

NetSumZero1 karma

Is the SurfEasy Android App compatible with GoogleTV? And what's the legality, within Canada, of using VPN services to access regionally restricted content - would it be considered circumventing digital locks, where the lock is region based on IP?

michaelgeist2 karma

Great question. I think there is still uncertainty over whether using a VPN service would be caught by the new TPM provisions. First, are region restrictions implemented by geo-identification technologies a TPM? Second, is the use of a service to disguise location (which may occur for many legitimate reasons) within the provision on avoiding a TPM? I can see arguments on both sides. I doubt there would be any action against an individual but perhaps a challenge against a service provider designed primarily for those purposes?

DanoLostTheGame1 karma

With the Voltage hearing out of the way, what changes do you expect to Canadian Privacy laws and disclosure moving forward? Do you feel it will set a precedent?

michaelgeist1 karma

The hearing may be out of the way, but the decision is apparently a few weeks away. The case will certainly set a precedent for large scale attempts to obtain subscriber data in alleged copyright cases. The prior big case (Sony BMG v. Doe) involved 29 alleged file shares, while this case involves thousands. I don't think this will change Canadian privacy law, but it may establish some boundaries around subscriber disclosure and use of that information.

The other big question will involve what comes after that - will Voltage pursue only via demand settlement letters? If so, will anyone settle given that significant damage awards are very unlikely.

lwilliamd1 karma

Is Canada doing enough to reduce the number of Patent trolls operating in the country? There have been reports of increased activity. These patent trolls or NDEs are essentially using extortion as a business model. What can be done to protect the independent software developer who is becoming a prime target for these trolls.

michaelgeist1 karma

Alan Macek has a recent post on Slaw that argued that patent trolling is less likely/common in Canada for two main reasons: limited availability of interlocutory injunctions and cost awards to the successful party. The full post is at


The bigger patent issue in Canada right now is reforms required by the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (being pushed by pharma companies) and demands from the US for changes to our utility rules. Patent is rapidly replacing copyright as the bigger issue for US lobbying.

fannypac1 karma

What is your advice for an average Canadian citizen who's trying to protect their online privacy?

michaelgeist3 karma

Answered above as...

I wish there was a simple formula, but there isn't. We need to vigilant about exposing abuses and the lack oversight. We need to meet with our elected representatives so they recognize that it is a concern and address the legislative shortcomings - lack of oversight, more power for the Privacy Commissioner, updated rules to reflect current surveillance realities. We need to better protect our own privacy - limit disclosures, use technologies to safeguard our information, and file complaints where appropriate.

giffenola1 karma

Hello Professor,

I was curious if you could comment on what steps need to be taken in Canada before we can start holding elections online?

It is pretty clear that we will be looking at online voting technologies in the next few years. Are there any legal hurtles which must be overcome before online voting can be used during a Canadian election?

michaelgeist3 karma

I've been quite critical of the use of Internet voting for major elections such as provincial or federal elections. Most of what I read suggests that it remains risky. A recent piece on the issue at


grant01 karma

Hi Dr. Geist,

What do you make of the new phone regulations regarding length of contract and unlocking? Do you think they'll actually make a difference for Canadians, or will companies make up for them by increasing prices even further? What can Canada do to encourage competition in the mobile phone market?

michaelgeist1 karma

I'm pretty supportive of the CRTC consumer wireless code. I wrote about it here


with some additional thoughts on how things changed on Canadian wireless (at least in the minds of the government) here


That said, more competition is needed. The government is now consistently talking about the need for more competition but it isn't clear if it is willing to really shake up the regulatory landscape in order to do so.

runningandguitars1 karma

What made you choose Ottawa U to teach?

michaelgeist3 karma

It's the perfect place to be for my field. Lessig used to speak about east coast code (the laws) and west coast code (software) and how both can regulate activities. Ottawa is east coast code and west coast code rolled into one. Besides, we've built an amazing group of professors in law and technology, some fantastic programs, and a wide array of different courses and opportunities.

mxpower1 karma

Good day Professor, I am a big fan and have conversed with you over the past via email etc.

One question, I am afraid that our dwindling internet and data rates/speeds are here to stay with no hope in the next decade of reaching any world class standards.

What do you suggest we do as Canadians to raise the awareness of this and provoke efficient/affordable change?

michaelgeist2 karma

I don't think it's an awareness issue anymore. The government is aware of the concern. I think the public must be vigilant and vocal should the government fail to follow through with policies aimed at increasing wireless and Internet competition.

alexl11 karma

What got you interested in SurfEasy?

What do you think of the latest NSA scandal?

michaelgeist3 karma

I've been concerned with privacy issues for many years and frustrated at the inability of the law to keep pace. Technology self-help solutions don't provide a complete answer - we need effective regulators and regulation - but they can be enormously helpful. I was impressed with what SurfEasy is doing and was happy to help out.

As for the NSA scandal, the sheer scope of the surveillance activities, which stretch across the U.S. to the UK and even to Canada are alarming. I conducted a Q&A with Maclean's Magazine that addresses more of my thoughts on this at


Wascally7wabbit1 karma

Michael - I have followed your efforts over the years - both when you were in a law practice and since you moved to academe. I noted your reply to a question earlier from an undergraduate wondering how to "get into" the privacy world and what expertise to acquire. Unlike you - I came to the security & privacy world from a technical background - and acquired the necessary level of knowledge of privacy law, policy development along the way. I know some of your esteemed colleagues in UofO - like Khaled El Emam working in the area of encryption - a man of science rather than law. Yet I see lawyers setting up boutique practices to try to win a piece of this pie. I have to say - I have become somewhat skeptical about what lawyers can bring to this area of multidisciplines - unless they commit to acquiring an understanding of the underlying technologies. You are welcome to duck this one - recognizing that it is a contentious subject - but your thoughts would be welcomed.

michaelgeist2 karma

I think we do have lawyers in Canada (often without a tech background) that bring great knowledge and expertise to privacy law. For example, expertise in administrative law can be hugely important when dealing with privacy law regulation. Some litigators can be great too. I watched the SCC hearing earlier this month on the Alberta privacy law and thought that Mahmud Jamal of Oslers (who argued on behalf of the OPC) was the strongest presentation to the court of the day.

That said, there are some lawyers that dabble in the issue in the hope of drumming up business. I think that's probably true for all fields, but it does leave some professed experts whose knowledge is a bit more superficial.

spotupshotup0 karma

does the government admitting nsa really change anything. most people new they were doing it

michaelgeist3 karma

It remains to be seen if it will change anything. For the moment, we're just at the stage of learning about the scope of the surveillance activities. If this remains a public issue, I think there is some hope of governments at least addressing oversight concerns.

ajacob240 karma

Hi Professor Geist,

Thank you very much for taking part in this, and for putting together The Copyright Pentalogy. I am a recent Western Law graduate who worked for both Professors Wilkinson and Trosow, and even covered the "fivefecta" last summer for IPOsgoode.

To your knowledge, are there any current proceedings at the Federal Court which may shed some light on the new fair dealing purpose of education? In your opinion, are there any concerns with section 29 being off-side TRIPS three-step test?

Regards, Adam Jacobs

michaelgeist3 karma

Thanks Adam. Obviously, the Access Copyright lawsuit against York University would address the fair dealing issue, though a court hearing (much less a decision) seems a long way away. Frankly, I don't think the inclusion of education as a fair dealing purpose raises many questions. The SCC decisions last summer provide a very broad approach to research and private study such that the first part, purposes test will be easily met in most cases (with or without the education purpose).

As for fair dealing and the 3 step test, I don't think there is a problem. A growing number of countries have full fair use provisions (ie. no limit to the purposes) so I don't see the Canadian provision as being particularly problematic from an international copyright law perspective.

ajacob241 karma

Thanks for your reply, Professor.

While I agree the inclusion of education as a fair dealing purpose is likely a straight forward issue, I worry that, similar to Access Copyright, other collectives or rights holders will continue to push the boundaries between compensable uses and fair dealing uses. In my opinion, the more clarity courts can provide, the better.

As for TRIPS, your point is well-taken!

michaelgeist2 karma

I'm sure they will push, but the SCC was very emphatic with its decision on fair dealing. I don't think we need more clarity at this stage given the strong affirmation of user rights from the court.

UndefinedMemory0 karma

Re surfeasy - please and forgive the ignorance here - does using a VPN affect port based traffic restrictions? For example, a number of ISPs in the UK cap torrent traffic during peak hours. Is this something that if you were using software like surfeasy would be avoidable, or would it still be able to see the nature of the traffic/packets to slow them down?

For Michael Geist, very happy to see you on here! Yours is a name that comes up a lot on my internet. With the recent NSA information that has come out, probably the biggest shock to me is the apathy with which it has been received. I have always felt that this aspect of our lives, and the need for privacy, is incredibly important; DRM and any technology that enforces business models on us or reduces our control over our personal information has always struck a personal chord. I finally was forced by my bank to have a card with an RFID chip and am now waiting for a Humn wallet to go with it! My question is: in your experience in dealing with this type of information and the public response, how do you think we should approach this? Is there anything that you can think of that will actually be strident enough to bypass this inbuilt resistance that people seem to have to caring about the government's abuses of power? I see a striking similarity between this and issues like gun ownership, which are linked to many people's identity/national identity, and for which they fight vehemently. The right to privacy is intrinsic to democracy and freedom and is a corner stone of virtually every modern country, so why is this not perceived as an aspect of personal identity for which it is worth fighting tooth and nail? It seems to be that until people have been personally burned by this they are incapable of identifying with it.

Also, do you see any sense of a reversing in the trend in Canada right now to take these freedoms away? The government has continuously been removing freedoms from people and very publicly fighting for corporations against the wills of the people. My parents REALLY want me to move back to Canada but I don't see how I can when it keeps getting worse. I was so incredibly proud when the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that downloading a song on the internet was tantamount to having a photocopier in a public library. Any chance we can get back there? (And yes, with the way the UK is going, I don't know how much longer I can live here either... suggestions on countries that seem to care about their people? :) )


michaelgeist3 karma

I think Canada's done pretty well on issues such as copyright (the recent Supreme Court decisions and reform), lawful access (defeat of the surveillance bill), and the pro-consumer shift at the CRTC. Lots more work to be done, but a better track record than most in recent years.