It has been a busy week for the Conservatives as they found themselves playing solidly on the defense for the first time since the election. First off, as the furor arose over Vic Toews incredible assertion that anyone who had reservations over the warrantless gathering of their private information was demonstrating support for pedophiles, even the staunchest avoiders of politics paused and took notice. Privacy is a big issue for most Canadians, and even many Conservatives recognized that a line had been crossed with that level of specious rhetoric.
Indeed, in a first for this Parliamentary session, as the uproar expanded the government has even hinted that it might actually accept some opposition amendments to the legislation. Whether they do so remains to be seen, of course. But still, when any debate over legislation has Stockwell Day looking more reasonable than the Minister responsible – you know you have a problem.
For it is, indeed, a badly written piece of legislation. Go ahead and give it a read. Start off with what constitutes a service provider from the definitions:
“telecommunications facility” means any facility, apparatus or other thing that is used for telecommunications or for any operation directly connected with telecommunications.
“telecommunications service” means a service, or a feature of a service, that is provided by means of telecommunications facilities, whether the provider owns, leases or has any other interest in or right respecting the telecommunications facilities and any related equipment used to provide the service.
“telecommunications service provider” means a person that, independently or as part of a group or association, provides telecommunications services.
“transmission apparatus” means any apparatus of a prescribed class whose principal functions are one or more of the following:
(a) the switching or routing of communications;
(b) the input, capture, storage, organization, modification, retrieval, output or other processing of communications;
(c) the control of the speed, code, protocol, content, format, switching or routing or similar aspects of communications; or
(d) any other function that is similar to one described in paragraphs (a) to (c).
Under that set of definitions, and with no mention of a commercial aspect, anyone with a wireless modem in their house would technically qualify as a service provider and thus be open to inspection. And inspection, in case you are wondering, is where any designated officer may (per section 34-2 a) “examine any document, information or thing found in the place and open or cause to be opened any container or other thing; “
And you thought it was only your online privacy at risk? How about granting the government the ability to toss your house at will?
Indeed, the bill is so sweeping in the powers that it puts into the Minister of Public Safety’s hands that, in conjunction with the recently passed changes to the Copyright Act, it would take little more than the swipe of a pen for the Minister of Public Safety to have the communications of the opposition parties under constant intercept during an election campaign. It could be done under the guise of ensuring that the opposition advertizing did not breach anyone’s copyright.
Simply put, this is entirely too much power to be placed in the hand of one person. All Canadians would love to see pedophiles found and stopped, but the notion that we have to all be willing to be treated as criminals runs counter to how we expect the government to solve the issue. Instead, this legislation opens the doors to have all of your online activities vetted, and potentially used against you by this or future governments.
Forcing all ISPs to upgrade to equipment that would allow for multiple simultaneous intercepts to be running is a further cost that will inevitably be downloaded to consumers, thus making us pay for the government’s new powers to spy on us. The difficulty in performing such actions was brought sharply home to Minister Toews when Parliament’s own internal network was unable to determine which computer was used to flood Twitter with embarrassing details of the Minister’s personal life. If the secure network of Parliament can not trace outgoing Ips to the person who used it, how can they insist that ISPs be able to do the same?
True to form, the Conservatives initially only used this as an excuse to stifle debate when Minister Baird kept refusing to answer questions in the House on Bill C-30, instead answering every question with feigned outrage and a request that the NDP out the Vikileaks offender. There was, of course, nothing to indicate that the NDP was involved, but this government has never been afraid to act out in the absence of facts. No, someone had targeted them for a change with a dirty trick, and they didn’t like it.
Especially in a week when, to bring the news cycle full circle, Conservative staffer Michael Sona who once tried to physically remove a ballot box from a polling station resigned, taking responsibility as the originator of RoboCalls during the last election. These calls were designed to suppress voter support by either calling Liberal supporters in the middle of the night with a message supposedly from the Liberal Party in an attempt to alienate them from the party, or by directing voters to incorrect polling locations on election day. Thus far Sona has failed to mention exactly how it was he was able to determine who were the Liberal supporters in ridings that he has never worked in, nor has the mainstream media seemed to be curious enough to ask details about that aspect either. This is not, after all, information that is normally public nor distributed. In order for the Robocall campaign to have been organized, either the Conservatives are providing staffers with unfettered access to incredibly personal information of all Canadians, and that begs the question of how they have tracked your political preferences, or this was not a one-man show. Either way, this resignation without a statement from the self-proclaimed guilty party seems like an attempt to mitigate this news story before the questions start to dig too deep. Hopefully someone keeps the pressure up.
But that being said, this was still not the worst of the dirty tricks in the news this past week. As I listened to the group Anonymous give a seven day deadline to Minister Toews to either quash Bill C-30 or have details of other unspecified wrongdoing exposed, I was left feeling very uneasy. I will start by saying that I absolutely love any group willing to become engaged in political action, and I heartilly applaud their desire to protect the privacy and openness of the Internet, and the clever and theatrical manner in which they do it. However, for starters, Mr. Toews is hardly in control of the Parliamentary calendar nor is he in a position to dictate to Prime Minister Harper that a government bill should be scrapped. But more importantly, I simply can not say that I am comfortable with a group attempting to coerce by threat a government in power in order to direct policy. Although I am all for using crowdsourced public outrage to affect change, and firmly believe that any politician who has abused the public trust is not fit for office and should be removed, this is just not the way to solve the problem. If they have verifiable information that ANY politician, Conservative, Liberal, NDP, or whatever else has broken the law or abused the public trust then that information should be immediately turned over to the media, the police, and to the public. There is simply no place for such people in positions of power, and any efforts to remove such people should be applauded.
But anyone who thinks that hoping their government is open to being extorted into action by an unelected group of anonymous persons is a better way to run the country needs to seriously stop and think through the implications. You might agree with Anonymous on the issues in this instance, as do I, but what will you say if and when the agenda that such a group is pushing is counter to the best interest of Canadians? If the message from Anonymous is to believed, they have evidence of wrongdoing that they are willing to suppress should they get their way on this issue. That Mr. Toews has committed crimes, but that they can overlook this if they get what they want. This does NOT put Anonymous in a position of working for the best interest of Canadians, but rather defines them as a group with as little moral high ground as what they attribute to the person they have targeted. After all, they are willing to accessories to a crime by providing silence bought and paid for with political action.
That is a dirty trick that only further undermines our democracy, and one that all Canadians should renounce.