Canada’s quest for freedom in the online age

“How will I support my family if we fail to keep the internet open? I see no option but to disconnect.” This question is haunting Canadians as they consider whether to follow the lead…

Canada's quest for freedom in the online age

“How will I support my family if we fail to keep the internet open? I see no option but to disconnect.”

This question is haunting Canadians as they consider whether to follow the lead of England and California in considering a demand for legal access to unlimited, fast, free “unlimited” Internet access. The Canadian Human Rights Commission is about to launch an investigation into “institutional discrimination” that makes it impossible for parents to connect to their children’s online lives. While this should surprise no one, it shouldn’t shock anyone.

Internet addiction is not a new problem. Intuition tells us that logging onto a computer regularly to play games, send and read emails, “watch” streams of TV shows, watch Youtube videos, and generally check in on one’s digital progress is addictive. There is nothing surprising in the human need to disconnect from work and online distractions in order to keep up with a pressing family, home, or personal needs. It’s a thing.

What can Canada learn from what’s happening in America and England?

It is clear that consumers and businesses alike are not happy with current limits on our Internet freedoms. More and more time and money are devoted to producing data on our personal, private, and professional lives, but that data has no legal right to free internet access. Perhaps as a result, we will soon have the freedom to disengage from connected work and digital activities and still get free access to the internet.

Private citizens deserve an unmet human right to unwind from work and digital activities when needed.

Businesses are beginning to realize that the Internet acts as an open communication channel between their customers and employees, along with their suppliers and partners. Unfortunately, current regulations often limit worker and business communications in matters of intellectual property, competitive advantage, and consumer consent. For example, despite a recently approved federal law, corporate companies cannot be compelled to enter into social media contracts that provide confidential client, personal, and employee data.

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Canadian companies that compete internationally are failing to compete when their employees can’t disconnect from work to share their ideas, share their own experiences, and share ideas they may have only reflected during work. Canadian families are having a difficult time connecting to one another in matters of family, home, and parenting.

Organizations can also learn from other countries as we continue to explore better ways to interact and collaborate online. For example, organizations of all kinds have already begun to learn more effectively how to track and, when needed, respond to accidents and incidents without impacting work, opening companies to costly lawsuits. Government agencies and schools need to learn how to regulate behavior on the internet in a way that prevents risky, harmful content, while at the same time keeping online interactions positive and safe.

Individuals can still connect to the digital world to help or hinder a job, family, or personal relationship. But unfortunately, few Canadians believe that their own ability to access and interact with the Internet is being treated similarly as that of an employee and company in the U.S. The absence of a Canadian connection to the Internet should not make their activities illegal or in violation of human rights.

What can Canadians learn from what’s happening in America and England?

First, Canadians should share with their friends, neighbors, and corporate colleagues. As entrepreneurs, individuals should be sharing their professional achievements, their success, their experiences, their failures, and their thoughts about the direction of business, entrepreneurship, and technology. But that is why we humans like to disconnect, to reconnect, to recharge. We can do this for the sake of business, family, and ourselves.

Second, organizations of all kinds must ensure they are taking into account, online, the non-work “human” aspects of employee work, social interactions, and “family time” in their online operating procedures and approval processes. For example, if a company uses a streaming video tool to share information with prospective customers, it should also consider the social benefits that might include customer bonding and “knowing” the identity of the person sharing this information.

Canada’s Human Rights Commission makes the solid argument that access to fast, free, unlimited Internet access is not a luxury but a human right. For Canadians, family time can’t wait.

Dave Hoadley is Chief Executive Officer of Macmillan, Canada’s largest publisher of English-language books.

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