USMCA writes new continental rules around online content, experts say

Provisions embedded in the newly released North American trade pact could prevent internet providers from having to quickly take down online content in what is being seen as a potential victory for freedom of speech online.

Digital policy expert Michael Geist says such safe harbour rules haven't been part of the Canadian landscape, which is why content like critical reviews can be more quickly removed in Canada than in the United States.

Geist says it may be possible to embed the cross-border rules into Canadian law.

The digital trade provisions in the newly unveiled U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement could limit geographical restrictions on where data is stored and roll back requirements that companies wanting to do digital business have a physical presence in a particular jurisdiction.

The wording is new for the continental trade partners, which didn't have similar provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it is found in other agreements that Canada has signed.

Susan Aaronson, an expert on digital trade from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., says the USMCA falls short around data rules, which is why she is urging the Trudeau government to think more about a national data strategy.