Canada’s biggest privacy debate being discussed in the media and the public this week is the Lawful Access legislation being introduced by Public Safety Minister Vic Towes (Bill C-30). If passed, new powers will be granted to law enforcement agencies to access information from your Internet Service Provider without a warrant that includes:
- Your name
- phone number
- E-mail address
- Your Physical Address
- IP address
This information may look benign at first, however your IP Address should be of great concern for everyone as it identifies the device you used to access the Internet at any given time. Combined with other data it is possible that the police or other agency can identify your location at any given time – your cellphone, tablet or other mobile device becomes a tracking unit without any judicial oversight or justification! It’s laughable that our government is trying to introduce this legislation when our US neighbours recently ruled that law enforcement requires a warrant to slap a GPS unit on a suspect’s car! You cannot surveil a citizen without justification and oversight is essential to prevent its abuse. As for Toews assertion that this is public telephone book information is misleading unless there is a directory that I’m unaware of that allows me to look up my neighbour’s IP address at any given time.
Other Powers in Bill C-30
The other piece of the legislation forces ISPs to increase their surveillance capabilities and creates the following new powers for law enforcement personnel:
- Transmission warrants, which cover information related to the transmission of information such as routing or addressing, along with all the additional header-type information created by messages.
- Preservation orders, which require the temporary retention of data on particular subscribers or communications
- Production orders, which can require disclosure of transmission data, tracking data, financial data or information on specified communications
The cost alone to implement these capabilities will be enormous and it’s unclear who will be responsible for picking up these costs (aka the Tax Payer). For the smaller ISPs this is of great concern; the government put into place a framework to encourage competition in this space only to quash it with huge requirements for monitoring subscriber internet habits. An issue that still needs to be addressed is how all of this data being secured? – can you imagine a hacking group breaching a small ISP and gaining this information on a few thousand subscribers?
In addition to gaining certain data without a warrant and requiring ISPs to build surveillance infrastructure, bill C-30 permits the courts to prevent ISPs from informing its customers that they have been under surveillance or information regarding their Internet habits were disclosed. I don’t know about you, but I would really like to trust the government and not be lied to. Vic Toews replies to one criticism
For you to suggest that authorities would use these identifiers to track individuals without first obtaining the necessary judicial authority is to question the integrity of those entrusted to keep our communities safe. – Vic Toews
Bill C-30 actually increases the odds that abuse of the system can occur. i.e. obtain information regarding an individual without a warrant, use that info to manipulate a warrant to gain further insight on Internet behavior with no way that the individual(s) in question can determine if their civil liberties are being violated.
Siding with the Child Pornographers
you’re either with the government, or with the “child pornographers – Vic Toews
Hard cases make bad law. It’s an adage that I love because it’s so true. Extreme laws restrict the majority in many ways that reduce what we love about being in a “free” society; the laws of society are meant to protect our freedoms, not restrict them unless its for the greater good. I’m all for laws that allow for apprehending those who prey on the weakest of society, but not at the expense of demeaning the society itself. If there is just cause to obtain data from an ISP, judicial oversight is necessary to ensure that the standard for access is upheld and does not diminish over time. We cannot have one jurisdiction have one standard for request of data access and another have one that is lower/higher. Star Trek, The Next Generation hammers this point home:
The road from legitimate suspicion to rampant paranoia is shorter than we might think – Jean Luc Picard, The Drumhead
Potentially people can be investigate based on insinuation and innuendo with nothing substantive – a very dangerous road to be on. Society needs oversight; that’s why we have police and a court system. If we could just trust everyone, there would be no need to have either. This bill is an oxymoron as there is nothing lawful about it as it allows the courts to be removed from a good portion of the process.
Keep the Pressure Up
One good thing about Bill C-30 is that it demonstrates the power of the Internet to mobilize society. OpenMedia.ca’s campaign against online spying has reached over 100,000 participants, one of the largest online petitions in Canadian history. But the pressure needs to continue especially with a Conservative majority government. Sign the petition and tell the government that you opposed being spied upon without proper oversight!
For a more detailed explanation regarding Bill C-30, Michael Geist’s blog post “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lawful Access, But Were (Understandably) Afraid To Ask”. He’s Canada’s premier authority on Internet Law and his blog is always a great place to start to uncover how new laws impact our use of the Internet.