CYNTHIA KHOO IS A PUBLIC INTEREST LAWYER WHO WORKS AT THE INTERSECTION OF LAW, TECHNOLOGY, AND HUMAN RIGHTS.
You love the Internet and want to protect human rights. I can help.
I’ve dedicated my legal career to making an impact at the intersection of technology law and policy, the Internet, human rights, and civil liberties. This has meant my practice is interdisciplinary and cuts across (tele)communications, privacy, intellectual property, copyright, technology, and human rights law. Much of my work involves legal and policy reform in addition to practicing law, so I spend as much time thinking about what our laws could or should be, as I do about what they currently are and how we can use them to solve problems unique to the digital age.
Currently I am engaged as a Research Fellow at the Citizen Lab (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto), an interdisciplinary research laboratory that focuses on the intersection of information and communications technologies, human rights, and global security. My research areas at the Lab have included consumer spyware (sometimes known as “stalkerware”) and the human rights implications of algorithmic decision-making. I have also been awarded a research grant by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), to research and write a report on digital platform liability and technology-facilitated gender-based violence and abuse, which will inform LEAF’s litigation and legal reform strategy in this field.
I have extensive experience representing clients in proceedings before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and have represented clients as interveners before the Supreme Court of Canada. I regularly research and write policy submissions to government consultations and advise on legal, policy, advocacy, and campaign strategies. I also speak at conferences and workshops; deliver presentations, seminars, and talks; meet with politicians and government officials on behalf of clients; and provide commentary in print and broadcast media on behalf of clients or as a subject matter expert.
I am called to the Bar of Ontario and am a licensed member of the Law Society of Ontario, with a J.D. from the University of Victoria and B.A. (Honours English) from the University of British Columbia. This included exchange semesters at Université Jean-Moulin Lyon III and the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law (NUS Law). I also hold an LL.M. (Concentration in Law and Technology) from the University of Ottawa, during which I specialized in online platform regulation and platform liability for harms to marginalized communities.
I serve on the Board of Directors of Open Privacy, completed a technology law internship at the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), where I worked on files as a research student and junior counsel, and completed the Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute (2017) at Oxford University.
My job is to help you advance your cause, achieve impact on an issue you care about, or otherwise bring the world that much closer to your vision for it. If you have questions or would like to connect, then get in touch! I look forward to seeing what we can make happen.
Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34 (Supreme Court of Canada): I represented an intervener as co-counsel and agent in this case, involving Google being ordered to globally de-index all links to the defendant’s websites around the world.
We argued that the Court should develop and apply a legal test for online content takedown, that respected freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and tried to establish that the Internet is a protected medium of communications. (My observations from the hearing here.)
TELUS Communications Inc. v. Avraham Wellman, 2019 SCC 19 (Supreme Court of Canada): I represented an intervener as junior counsel, co-authoring the factum and appearing at hearing as second chair, in a case about whether or not mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts of adhesion should apply to small businesses in Ontario.
We argued that in context of the radical marketplace shifts resulting from a digitized society, many small businesses such as sole proprietors, freelancers, “prosumers“, and gig economy workers effectively operate with a similar lack of commercial and legal sophistication as average consumers, and thus should be similarly protected in disputes with much larger corporations. (Twitter summary here.)
Uber Technologies Inc., et al. v. David Heller (Supreme Court of Canada, File no. 38534): I represented an intervener as junior counsel and co-authored the factum, in a class action case about whether or not Uber drivers were bound by non-negotiable standard-form arbitration clauses in their terms of service with Uber (which would have required drivers to individually arbitrate claims in the Netherlands).
We argued that forced arbitration clauses in contractual relationships of asymmetrical power were invalid on grounds of unconscionability, and that access-to-justice considerations militated against staying the class action and forcing vulnerable “gig economy” workers to arbitrate claims on their own in the Netherlands (including being responsible at the outset for their own travel, arbitration, and legal expenses).
(TELECOMMUNICATIONS LAW AND POLICY)
During the first several years of my career, I was involved in every major telecommunications proceeding implicating the public interest, that arose at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). This includes the following in particular:
Proceeding: Examination of differential pricing practices related to Internet data plans (Telecom Notice of Consultation 2016-192)
The Story: “The net neutrality /zero-rating one.” Bell Mobility favoured its own mobile video app by not charging for data to use it (vs. charging for data to watch Netflix)–a.k.a. zero-rating. The CRTC said this violated net neutrality. Videotron zero-rated music from certain commercial music streaming apps. The CRTC launched a general proceeding on the legitimacy of zero-rating in Canadian telecommunications law. Client’s goal: ensure the CRTC upheld net neutrality and banned discriminatory zero-rating practices as illegal. (Spoiler: we won.)
Key Issues: net neutrality, zero-rating, Internet competition and choice, innovation
Proceeding: Review of basic telecommunications services (Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-134)
The Story: Plain old telephone is legally considered a basic telecommunications service in Canada. Broadband Internet access should be a basic service, too. (The CRTC agreed.)
Key Issues: broadband Internet, basic service, universal service objective, universal access, broadband affordability, Internet affordability
Proceeding: Development of the Commission’s broadband funding regime (Telecom Notice of Consultation 2017-112)
The Story: The CRTC had to decide how to allocate $750 million to roll out new broadband networks across Canada. My client’s goal was to ensure this public funding went towards community, non-profit, Indigenous, and municipal broadband initiatives–and not to large, commercial Internet service providers who already ruled the market.
Key Issues: broadband Internet affordability, community broadband, rural broadband, broadband competition and choice
Proceeding: Reconsideration of Telecom Decision 2017-56 regarding final terms and conditions for wholesale mobile wireless roaming service (Telecom Notice of Consultation 2017-259)
The Story: Sugar Mobile sold ultra-cheap mobile phone and data plans using a workaround in Ice Wireless’s roaming agreement with Rogers. The CRTC said this wasn’t allowed. The federal Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development returned the decision to CRTC and told them to reconsider. Client’s goal: persuade CRTC to order national carriers to open up mobile wireless networks to independent competition.
Key Issues: mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), WiFi-first MVNOs, mobile wireless competition, mobile wireless affordability
Proceeding: Review of wholesale services and associated policies (Telecom Notice of Consultation 2015-551)
The Story: Fibre is the future of the Internet–not DSL, copper, or non-hybrid coaxial cables. Canada’s largest Internet service providers had a legacy head start on fibre networks and could price out the competition from independent ISPs for good, unless the CRTC ordered them to provide wholesale access to fibre (FTTP) networks on fair terms. Fortunately, the CRTC did (kind of).
Key Issues: FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises) broadband Internet, Internet access competition and choice, independent service providers, wholesale service policies
Proceeding: Review of the Wireless Code (Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2016-293)
The Story: The Wireless Code provides consumer protection in buying cell phones and mobile wireless plans. The CRTC created it in 2013 and launched this proceeding to evaluate its performance. Client’s goal: update the Wireless Code to close demonstrated loopholes, strengthen consumers’ rights, and ensure effective enforcement.
Key Issues: consumer protection, mobile wireless competition, mobile wireless sales practices, device unlocking, data caps, contract terms, consumer rights, innovation
CONSULTATION SUBMISSIONS AND BRIEFS
In addition to representing clients in formal legal proceedings, I have written briefs and submissions to various government consultations and parliamentary committees on a range of issues, including digital trade, privacy, intellectual property and copyright reform, Internet affordability, and the importance of public interest advocacy:
Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade:
Priorities of Canadian Stakeholders Having an Interest in Bilateral and Trilateral Trade in North America, Between Canada, United States and Mexico, specifically regarding
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), copyright, and digital trade (more information)
Submission to Canadian Heritage consultation:
Canadian Content in a Digital World (more information)
Submission to Standing Committee on Alberta´s Economic Future:
Review of the Personal Information Protection Act (more information)
Submission to the Federal Court of Appeal and Federal Court Rules Committee:
Review of the Rule on Costs (more information)
Submission to Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (Industry Canada):
Bell Canada’s Petition to the Governor in Council to Vary Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2015-326, Review of wholesale wireline services and associated policies (more information)
Adrian Fong, Cynthia Khoo, Christopher Parsons, and Masashi Crete-Nishihata, “Access My Info: A Guide to Developing and Deploying the Access My Info Research Project,” The Citizen Lab, University of Toronto, October 2019.
Cynthia Khoo, Kate Robertson, and Ronald Deibert, “Installing Fear: A Canadian Legal and Policy Analysis of Using, Developing, and Selling Smartphone Spyware and Stalkerware Applications,” Citizen Lab Research Report No. 120, University of Toronto, June 2019.
Christopher Parsons, Adam Molnar, Jakub Dalek, Jeffrey Knockel, Miles Kenyon, Bennett Haselton, Cynthia Khoo, Ron Deibert, “The Predator in Your Pocket: A Multidisciplinary Assessment of the Stalkerware Application Industry,” Citizen Lab Research Report No. 119, University of Toronto, June 2019.
“‘To Be’ Is A Verb: Rewriting Law Through Embodied Reform“
Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues: Digital Companion, 2014.
“When artificial intelligence becomes artificial intimacy”
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (May 2020)
“Trust Abhors a Vacuum”
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (September 2019)
“Where the silicon hits the 49th”
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (December 2018)
“The Sum of All Attention” (page 11)
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Sept/Oct 2018)
“The revolution will not be automated”
Asserting a place for labour within the technosocial gestalt
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (July/August 2018)
“Crafting Internet policy with nuance, not kneejerks”
How can we revisit the idea of ‘Internet exceptionalism’ when crafting policies and laws, without sacrificing what made the Internet exceptional?
Policy Options, Institute for Research on Public Policy (May 2018)
“The Ghost Investor“
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (March/April 2018)
“Dramatis Principiis” (page 31)
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (January/February 2018)
“Google v. Equustek at the Supreme Court of Canada: Dispatch from the hearing,”
Rabble.ca (January 2017)
“Hope Springs Municipal: How small towns are driving Canada’s digital future“
The Monitor, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (March 2015)
Writing for IPilogue at IPOsgoode:
- When the Internet Has a Party, Everyone’s Invited: IP Law Issues at the Internet Governance Forum 2013
- Bowman v. Monsanto and Patent Exhaustion: To Be, or Ought to Be?
- Mining the Digital Gold Rush: The Legal (L)ore around France’s Data-Mining Tax
- Bonsai This Is Not: ICANN and the Internet Governance Landscape
- Sunny with a Chance of Chill: Forecasting EU’s New Cloud Computing Strategy
SELECTED MEDIA APPEARANCES
OpenCanada.org (Justin Ling, October 25, 2019)
“Palantir’s big push into Canada”
Vancouver Sun (Michelle McQuigge, October 2, 2019)
“Toronto’s Pearson airport to use Vancouver company’s AI-powered technology to detect weapons”
ELLE Canada (Wing Sze Tang, October 2, 2019)
“Is Your Smartphone Spying on You?”
The Wire Report (Anja Karadeglija, September 17, 2019)
“Green Party platform: no anonymous social media, 5G rollout on hold”
ResponsibleData.io (The Engine Room) (Lorraine Chuen, September 4, 2019)
“Addressing stalkerware and gender-based abuse through data protection law”
Financial Times (Camilla Hodgson, July 18, 2019)
“Inside the secretive world of stalking apps”
The Lawyer’s Daily (Amanda Jerome, June 13, 2019)
“Knowledge gaps regarding spyware used for abuse need to be addressed, researcher says”
Toronto Star (Kate Allen, June 12, 2019)
“Legal gaps allow cellphone ‘stalkerware’ to thrive, researchers say”
Maclean’s (Shannon Proudfoot, September 26, 2018)
“What happens when artificial intelligence comes to Ottawa”
Canadian Lawyer (Aidan Macnab, September 26, 2018)
“Report says use of AI could be violating human rights”
Toronto Star (Nicholas Keung, September 26, 2018)
“Researchers raise alarm over use of artificial intelligence in immigration and refugee decision-making”
Podcast: Beyond the Headlines (Jasper Parades, Mary Shin, Tom Piezkarski, Ian T. D. Thomson, April 20, 2018)
“Net Neutrality in the Canadian Context”
Business Insider (Rob Price, April 7, 2018)
“Facebook’s plan to let users ‘unsend’ messages could boost harassment and bullying, experts warn”
Yahoo Canada News (Elisabetta Bianchini, November 27, 2017)
“What Canadians need to know about net neutrality”
MobileSyrup (Rose Behar & Sameer Chhabra, November 29, 2017)
“Here’s everything you need to know about Canada’s unlocking fee ban”
Tiffany Sostar (Tiffany Sostar, November 12, 2017)
“Digital Self-Care: An Interview with Cynthia Khoo”
Law Times (Michael McKiernan, June 12, 2017)
“Focus: U.S.and Canada diverge on net neutrality”
TRT World (May 18, 2017)
“The Newsmakers: Net Neutrality”
IT World Canada (Eric Emin Wood, April 24, 2017)
“Could CRTC ruling against zero-rating be a boon for ISPs and businesses?”
Via Satellite (Juliet Van Wagenen, January 18, 2017)
“Canada on Path to Provide High Speed Internet to All”
Forbes (Katheryn Thayer, October 17, 2014)
“Secrecy-Shrouded TPP Leaks Alarm Internet Freedom Advocates”
Redeye, Vancouver Co-op Radio, CFRO 100.5FM (July 26, 2014)
“Free Access To Online Information Under Threat From TPP”
Stalkerware 101: What You Need to Know (Presentation delivered at the 7th Annual Gathering of Family Court Support Workers in Toronto, ON, October 2, 2019)
Uninstalling Fear: What can the law do about stalkerware surveillance and abuse? (Presentation and seminar delivered as part of the Queen’s University Surveillance Studies Centre Seminar Series, Kingston, ON, September 25, 2019)
TELUS v. Wellman: Consumer Rights, Class Action, and Access to Justice at the Supreme Court of Canada (Post-hearing panel discussion with counsel from various parties, University of Ottawa, November 6, 2018)
AI and Decision-Making: Basics, policy, application, and GoC perspectives (Panelist, Ottawa Law & Technology Meetup, Shopify, November 1, 2018)
Convergence, Competition and Common Carriage in the Review of the Telecommunications Act and Broadcasting Act (Panelist, Media Industries and Network Society course by Dr. Dwayne Winseck at Carleton University, October 4, 2018)
Shooting the Messenger? Intermediary Liability & Harmful Online Speech (Panelist, McGill University Faculty of Law, March 14, 2018)
Canadian International Law Students Conference 2018: International Cyber Law Panel (Panelist, Osgoode Hall Law School and University of Toronto Faculty of Law, March 9, 2018)
Citizen Lab Summer Institute (August 2019)
- Mobilizing Stalkerware Research for Security and Frontline Support (Co-Facilitator)
- Current and Potential Uses of AI in Criminal Law in Canada (Moderator)
- Predictive Policing: Exploring the Tough Questions (Workshop Facilitator)
RightsCon Toronto (May 2018)
- Trickle-Down Progress: Messaging Traps in Strategic Campaigning (Moderated Roundtable: Session Notes)
- Can trade agreements such as CPTPP, NAFTA, and RCEP be used as a tool for advancing digital rights? (Panelist: Copyright & the Public Domain: Slide Deck)
- Policing the Internet, or Promoting Digital Rights: World Intermediary Liability Developments 2018 (Panelist)
BEA2018: Annual Convention of Broadcast Education Association (April 7, 2018)
RightsCon Brussels (May 2017)
- Making Facebook Pay (for the News) (lightning talk)
- Choosing Your Battle (Terrain): Digital Rights Advocacy and Capturing the Grounds of Debate (workshop)
- The Digital is the Political: Anti-Oppression Resistance and an Introduction to Migrant Rights for Digital Advocates (roundtable)
- Net Neutrality Planet: What’s Next in the Global Fight for an Open Internet (panel)
Future of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Broadcasting (June 16, 2017)
- CRTC Interventions 101: A Nuts-and-Bolts Workshop on All the Logistical Details You Never Wanted (But Need) to Know (slide deck)
Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute (July 2017)
- Loss in the Time of Convergence: A Tale of Media Woes and Internet Foes (Or: How to Save News Media without Breaking the Internet)
You have likely landed here for a reason, so let’s talk! Feel free to email or fill out the contact form below, and I look forward to hearing from you.
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