If at first you don’t succeed in taking away the privacy rights of Canadians, try, try again. And, in typical style, the government is doing it in the most disingenuous of ways. With Bill C-30, what it calls The Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act, the Conservatives hope to strip away our basic civil liberties, hitting us with a huge – but as yet undisclosed – bill in the process. The government that railed against the long gun registry and the long form census on the grounds of privacy sees no hypocrisy in an act that will make those two items pale in comparison both in terms of cost and moving us farther down the road to a police state. Hyperbole? I’m afraid not.
The so-called lawful access legislation tabled by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews would give police the right to demand personal information – your name, phone number, IP addresses, surfing habits and the like – from Internet service providers without a warrant. It would also force ISPs to install expensive hardware and software to provide real-time surveillance of all their customers, turning that information over to police on a whim.
In essence, we’re all guilty until proven innocent. Well, make that we’re all guilty, as once the surveillance measures are in place, there’s no going back – the monitoring will continue. But we’re supposed to be just fine with that because, according to Toews, we either support the bill or we support child pornographers. Those are the only options.
“As technology evolves, many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier,” he said in the House of Commons. “We are proposing to bring measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide police with the lawful tools that they need.
“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
Hyperbole? I’m afraid so. But not surprising given how Karl Rove’s tactics were imported by this government.
The Harper government’s attempts at relieving Canadians of their rights have been roundly condemned by a range of experts, including the federal privacy commissioner and all her provincial counterparts. In Ontario, Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr. Ann Cavoukian has launched a concerted push against the legislation, countering the claims the changes are minor.
“Let’s get this straight: It’s not phone-book information! We must dispel the myths relating to the new powers that would enable warrantless access to much more information than an individual’s address and phone number,” she writes in an online attack of such legislation
“In total, 11 fields of identifying information could be collected about an individual in the proposed ‘lawful access’ scheme. In my view, there’s little that should be considered ‘lawful” about this.
Legislation proposed by the Conservatives threatens our freedoms and our democracy, she asserts.
“The proposed legislation lacks proper judicial oversight, and is deficient in transparency and openness; these elements are vital in a free and democratic society. Properly supervised, surveillance powers can be invaluable to law enforcement. However, it is equally true that where individuals are subject to unwarranted suspicions, or evidence is poorly handled, or erroneous conclusions are hastily drawn, the consequences for innocent individuals can be devastating.”
There will, of course, be the expected “if you’ve got nothing to hide” counterargument from supporters of such invasive measures. That argument doesn’t hold up: everybody has the right to privacy unless there are compelling grounds to cross that line. And that line of thought leads to an awfully slippery slope, one George Orwell would recognize: why not video monitoring inside your home, if you’ve got nothing to hide?
If the moral and legal grounds aren’t enough to make you contact your MP to express your outrage, there are some practical reasons to do so.
First, as we’ve seen from other databases of information, if someone is collecting it – government or business – sooner or later it will be accidently released or hacked. The same portals that allow police, unsupervised, to snoop and spy on your online data will most certainly be accessed by others. Just think about all of your online activities – every email and messages, surfing history and web searches – posted on the equivalent of WikiLeaks for all to see.
Not a pleasant thought, is it. But maybe you’re one of those people with nothing to hide.
Or maybe you’d simply like to think of the impact on your wallet. The technology needed to allow for widespread surveillance of you, your friends, family and neighbours, as well as the rest of us across the country, is going to cost money. Lots of it. The government will likely have to give ISPs cash to offset the costs. The ISPs themselves will have to spend more. In both cases, the cost will be passed along to you, either as taxpayer or as customer.
Dr. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in online issues who strongly opposes the government plans, says the price tag is a major consideration in the debate.
“Cost is a big question mark on lawful access, though costs will ultimately be borne by the public. According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, many telecom and Internet providers have been primarily focused on the costs associated with installing surveillance equipment and with processing law enforcement requests. The government may provide financial assistance to smaller Internet providers to help address their costs or provide an implementation delay. Some smaller providers have indicated they may be forced to close if they bear the costs alone. Providers will likely also be able to charge fees for complying with law enforcement requests,” he writes on his popular blog (michaelgeist.ca), one of many spots to get up to speed on the legislation’s impact.
In that vein, and to help prod MPs, there’s also www.StopSpying.ca and www.realprivacy.ca. Being informed is the first step to countering the activities of those intent on removing your freedoms.