Eropa Stein: Canadians must take a stand for Internet freedom
By Eropa Stein
The freedom of the use of social media is at an impasse. Legislation across the world is attempting to hinder our ability to communicate freely across the World Wide Web.
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are two U.S. bills focused on protecting the copyright laws of the media industry. The objectives of these bills are to censor the content on the Internet by policing website users. If such legislation should pass, websites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, Twitter, Google, and Facebook would be coerced into monitoring our every move in order to avoid contributory infringement. In order to combat such bills, highly influential Internet services organized an online campaign against SOPA and PIPA. This campaign coordinated a “blackout” of popular sites such as Wikipedia, Mozilla, and Reddit on January 18. The impact of the blackout was profound as it encouraged millions of U.S. citizens to visit the anti-SOPA page and petition Congress. This in turn caused the bills to be shelved for the time being, therefore highlighting the power of social media.
If Canadians think that the aforementioned American acts are merely a bump in the digital road—contained to their national borders; they should think again. This view is deeply myopic. The infringement of freedom of communication crosses borders, affecting us all. Canadian Bill C-11 has digital lock rules and recommends amendments similar to SOPA and PIPA, such as blocking websites. Soon enough our surfboards will be taken out from under us.
The Canadian government prides itself on privacy acts such as PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act), which supposedly serves to protect Canadians’ privacy by placing safeguards on how the private sector can access and disclose users’ personal information. However, there are a number of exceptions where private information can be released without the individual’s awareness and consent. Such exceptions of protected privacy include grounds of national security, international affairs, and emergencies. Furthermore, Bill C-30 (Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act) challenges PIPEDA as it enforces online surveillance by coercing Internet service providers to log the Internet activity of all Canadians and is therefore a great threat to freedom of expression and online privacy. To make matters worse, the trolling for evidence of a crime can result in potential data being taken out of context, a very dangerous real-time surveillance approach.
Unfortunately, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews promotes the bill using absurd remarks such as critics “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers”. This highly controversial statement was contested by the masses through opposing tweets, the creation of a Twitter account in his name (@vikileaks30), as well as the threatening message of the hacktivist group Anonymous. Social media has once again taken a stance!
Although Bill C-30 is temporarily on hiatus due to the uproar, Bill C-12, another legislation that seemingly protects our privacy, is underway. Bill C-12 is attempting to amend PIPEDA and inevitably expand the sharing regime of private information by willingly providing our information to policing services (not necessarily law enforcement agencies). Through the implementation of Bill C-12, this collection of personal information could be accomplished without the requirement of a subpoena or warrant.
As we are in the information age, we have become accustomed to services such as online communication (i.e. Facebook), shopping, dating, banking, et cetera. In the event that these services are constantly monitored, we can be considered willing subjects of an omniscient power. With that said, the fear of Big Brother is now a legitimate concern. We must therefore rethink how we use the Internet—what sites we are accessing and who is watching. Unfortunately, the only strategy that we have is to learn to circumvent the intrusive future of the Internet.
This morose future we are facing in regards to Internet surveillance will hinder our freedom of speech and expression. Walking along the path of inaction is no longer an option and the penitence of people’s passiveness will be witnessed. Although the uproar against Bill C-30 through Twitter and Anonymous has helped evade the potentially hazardous legislation, there are various other pro-corporate, privacy infringing bills that can go into effect. Some possible strategies are to raise national awareness by forming campaigns similar to the previously mentioned anti-SOPA/PIPA campaign. Writing to one’s member of Parliament would also help in promoting opposition to the bills. Canadian citizens should fight for their rights and protect their identities. Take a stand and sing “O Canada”.
Eropa Stein is a University of Guelph graduate who majored in both psychology and criminal justice and public policy.