Legislating the internet is comparable to doing brain surgery on yourself while riding a roller coaster: It’s going to go terribly wrong, and even if it does go alright, it won’t be pretty. I don’t know; I’m not a doctor.
Politicians keep trying anyway, as we saw with the recently-failed SOPA, as well as the current controversy surrounding ACTA and other similar legislations. Recently, a bill dubbed the “Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other acts” was floated by both the House of Commons and posted on the government’s website.
Specifically, this bill deals with the methods in which police can obtain data about all of your dirty internet habits, and “unpopular” doesn’t really sum up the popular reaction. People have put forward concerns regarding the provisions allowed under the proposed legislation, which was met, of course, with level-headed and intelligent discourse. Or it would have been, if Public Safety Minister Vic Toews hadn’t said that all who opposed it were standing with the child pornographers.
That’s very strong language, and it’s a comparison that many did not take kindly to. Usually, approaching an issue from a rational angle will produce better results. But that’s not going to make headlines.
Looking into the bill, there are concerning aspects of it that should be properly addressed. The most-highlighted has been provisions to waive the need for a warrant for a police agency to obtain your name, address, phone number, SIM card number, IP address and other basic information from any wireless telecommunications company.
There’s no question as to why this is concerning: if you start circumventing the need for warrants and due process, then there’s the question of whether it will be abused. Without due process surrounding such measures, who’s policing the situations in which these provisions are invoked? How transparent is the process? The reasons here for legitimate concern aren’t too hard to grasp.
Another clause, which forces ISPs to keep open back doors into their networks to monitor communications is also worrying. Instead merely turning over your email account to police, they get to see every little bit of traffic that passes through your computer, phone, or tablet. This information, often of a personal nature, can be extremely damaging to an individual and crosses the line of acceptability.
It is important to remember that to get truly invasive with your data, a warrant is required. I’ve seen a few sites claiming otherwise — that this bill allows police to search your computer and monitor your internet usage without warrant. This isn’t the case, according the government’s version on their website which states that: “In order to intercept the content of private communications, law enforcement and national security agencies require prior legal authorization, usually in the form of a judicial warrant. Bill C-52 will not alter these requirements.” (Third paragraph of section 2.1)
If critics are to get traction in dealing with the questionable sections of this bill, then they need to be making correct claims. Railing against the government being allowed to look at your internet traffic without a warrant does no good when no such provision exists. This nonsensical rhetoric is not going to get any sort of viable results, and is simply stepping down to the level of Toews’ original claims that those concerned with their privacy are pretty much OK with child pornography.
Getting back to Toews’ comment, the claim falls flat when the current laws already facilitate the necessary provisions to catch and prosecute such individuals. The question of why additional freedoms are needed at all is a relevant one that is being asked and, frankly, deserves a proper answer.
As a general rule, politicians have an obligation to address the concerns of their citizens. This verbal mud-slinging, in the end, only angers and frustrates the very people Minister Toews is trying to win over. It’s not like modifications to our digital rights are an easy sell to begin with, but it seems that Toews is determined to make it even harder.