ALMOST TWO WEEKS ago, the Conservative government made an unusual decision to refer to a committee for amendments before a bill was read a second time by the House of Commons.
Vic Toews, Canada’s public safety minister, unveiled the Conservative government’s Bill C-30 last month, otherwise known as The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. In essence, this bill would force Internet service providers (ISPs) to store information about their customer’s Internet activity.
Bill C-30 has been making waves in Ottawa. After Toews claimed those who do not support the bill stand with child pornographers, in addition to an overwhelming backlash by the public, the hype surrounding the bill has come to a head and it has now been taken off the table for the time being.
Not only customers suspected of criminal activity would be affected—every single person with access to the Internet would have their online activities recorded. ISPs could then provide that information to police when necessary without alerting the user of ongoing investigations looking for online criminals.
While some information would require a search warrant to obtain, other snippets of information could be asked freely of ISPs, such as your name, your IP address, or usernames you’re using on websites, to build a better picture of who you are. A search warrant would give the police access to all communications the ISP has been monitoring.
Upon its introduction, the bill didn’t hit a wave of resistance so much as a tidal flood. Expert hackers issued warnings to Toews, the message of which was cease and desist with the bill or face the consequences. When he didn’t back down, Toews saw just what those consequences were: A group of hackers under the pseudonym Anonymous exposed him as having a mistress and an illegitimate son.
Their message was clear: See how great a lack of privacy is?
The argument the Conservative party used in favour of this bill: If you’ve got nothing to hide, who cares who’s watching? In some ways, we’re inclined to agree. An ISP search of our browser history might reveal nothing more than an embarrassing obsession with Carly Rae Jepsen or the menu for the Thai restaurant we order take-out from.
But the fact remains, some people don’t like being an open book. Some people would rather keep their Internet preferences—the fetish websites they’ve visited, how they creep their ex-boyfriend on Facebook, the email they wrote Mom about their voting preferences last election—private. And as citizens, that’s their right.
The collection of Internet history poses its own problems. In the past, hacker organizations like Anonymous and LulzSec have demonstrated their ability to hack into extremely secure systems, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and most recently, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
Even billion-dollar companies whose specialty is the Internet—who have loads of time, money, and resources to use toward keeping their systems safe—have failed (Google, we’re looking at you). How hard would it be to break into Rogers or Bell?
The Internet isn’t a physical space the government has the right to occupy. It’s not a location cops can bust down the door of. The Internet is, for all intents and purposes, a theoretical space that facilitates communication.
If you have a problem with any type of private communication being infiltrated by the government—such as wire-tapping on telephones, reading personal letters, or recording conversations—then you’re saying, “Hey Harper, keep your nose out of my life.” Cyberspace is no different.
The government’s job is to work for us, to provide services citizens need. We understand the government might consider it a service to take care of its citizens by employing harsh measures to catch criminals, but when the pursuit of criminals starts trumping basic human rights, such as the right to communicate freely with others without fear of persecution, we need to take a stand.
If Bill C-30 rears its ugly head again, we’ll be siding with Anonymous. Privacy is not a privilege—it’s a basic human right.
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