Canadian ISPs Blocking goldtv.ca and DNS over HTTPS

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Michael Geist has posted a good piece on a recent Canadian Federal court case where the judge granted a request from Rogers, Bell and Groupe TVA for ISPs in Canada to block access to media streaming site, goldtv.ca. Geist provides plenty of reasons and analysis as to why this judgement is a poor decision, and why hopefully TekSavvy's appeal will be successful. 

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However, I think there is some possibility that Rogers et al may be playing a longer game, trying to enable a website blocking regime for the moment, as well as to undermine technologies that will threaten their content blocking tools in the future.

The UK has implemented, by law, an ISP level DNS blocking scheme to prevent access to websites, most notably for preventing access to Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM).  This is, in effect, what the Canadian judge has mandated - ISP level blocking of content across the country. As Geist points out, this has serious and substantial implications, and any national website blocking regime should go through a robust policy development process.  

But DNS blocking at the ISP level has a rather limited shelf life due to incoming changes to a technology that changes how domains are resolved by browsers, called DNS over HTTPS, or DoH.

DoH has already caused considerable controversy in the UK, with the UK ISP trade association calling Mozilla one of three 2019 Internet villains of the year for their support of the standard. Mozilla are not alone however, as all the big browsers are in support of the changes, including market share leader Google. It's not entirely clear how it's going to be implemented in the various browsers yet, but what is known is that in the nearish future, ISPs ability to block websites using the DNS will be limited.  ISPs will also no longer be able to alter, store and monetize users' DNS traffic, at least at the same scale. Users, especially in places with, say, government controlled ISPs, will see privacy and security benefits.

The decision here in Canada is a huge win for Rogers and Bell as the judge has now opened the door to a regime that protects the telcos' content interests, implemented in the ISP market they also dominate.  Further, there is now a legal precedent that they can point towards as a reason to delay, undermine and attempt to block the implementation of DoH in Canada.  

Not only will Bell and co wish to preserve their ability to block content at the DNS level, but they’ll likely fight hard to protect revenues from problematic services like Bell’s DNS mining “Tailored Marketing Program”.  DoH will severely limit ISPs abilities to monetize subscribers browsing data in this way, one of the fundamental benefits of the technology.

It will not be long before a discussion of DNS over HTTPS heats up in Canada,  and this ill-considered federal court decision will provide ISPs and content owners leverage for slowing or impeding the important privacy benefits the technology could provide.


Gavel image by Bloomsberries