Lindsey Pinto and Kelsey Mowatt: Government’s online spying scheme targets Canadians, not criminals
By Lindsey Pinto and Kelsey Mowatt
A recent survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada indicated that a vast majority of Canadians oppose giving authorities the power to access Internet usage data without a warrant. This may seem like a no-brainer, but don’t roll your eyes quite yet, gentle reader—the Conservative government doesn’t see things quite the same way.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson have crafted a set of bills that would give virtually unchecked power to law enforcement officials who want to watch over citizens’ online activity. They’re calling it “lawful access”; Canadians are calling it warrantless, online spying that we oppose en masse.
The Windsor Star recently reported that Canada’s police are gung-ho for these unprecedented new surveillance powers, despite there being no cases in which current methods (you know, the ones that involve court oversight) are falling short. Not a single case has been presented in which obtaining a warrant to intercept communications has impeded a police investigation. Court oversight isn’t as much of a hindrance as the government and police would lead you to believe.
What’s more, there’s little evidence that these surveillance mechanisms, which would violate the privacy of countless law-abiding citizens, would even serve their intended purpose: uncovering criminal activity. Any crypto-anarchist worth his salt would know about applications like Tor, Mixmaster, and anoNet, which allow Internet users to hide or disguise their identities.
These are the applications which, when oppressive regimes restrict free expression online, are hailed as a solution for citizens brave enough to express dissent. We don’t want to live in a society comparable to those where these technologies are the only avenues through which to engage in political or cultural discourse. Even without overt oppression, these are not applications that we want to have to use in order to protect our privacy from the prying eyes of authorities.
At this time the average Canadian, especially those in communities or generations that are recent adopters of information technology, will not know how to find or use things like anonymous remailers and overlay networks. While computer code can trump law for the more savvy and consequentially more dangerous criminals, law-abiding citizens would have to live with the government looking over their shoulder as they go about their everyday lives. The worst offenders would get away every time, while the rest of us grow more and more paranoid about what we do online, who we interact with, and how our interests, questions, or discourse could be interpreted by state authorities. In short, the only things these bills are likely to hinder are our fundamental freedoms of expression and association.
Case-in-point: in October the hacker group Anonymous took down one of the largest hosts of child pornography, which was being run over a concealed “darknet”, or anonymized network. The government’s proposed “lawful access” bills would likely not have discovered this kind of online activity to begin with; under the new regime, the Anonymous brand of online vigilante justice will still be needed to combat this kind of illegal activity. One might want to ask the question then, just what exactly does the government hope to achieve with its online spying agenda, if it can’t address more sophisticated and nefarious forms of Internet crime?
As the government continues to assure the public that they need not worry about its online spying scheme, and works to undermine widespread opposition to the proposed legislation, Canadians should continue to be vigilant. We need scrutinize this agenda, and demand that authorities be prevented from infringing on our civil liberties.
The team at OpenMedia.ca is once again rallying citizens together behind one message: Stop online spying. The use of online tools has been successful in changing politics and policy in the past, and we’re cautiously optimistic that the Stop Online Spying petition will also be successful.
Canadians are encouraged to visit StopSpying.ca to add their voices to the uproar.
Lindsey Pinto is the communications manager for OpenMedia.ca, a national nonprofit organization working to advance and support an open and innovative communications system in Canada.
Kelsey Mowatt is a researcher with OpenMedia.ca.