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Tories Still Bent on Sweeping Cyber-Spying Powers

Stripped from crime bill, online surveillance law not dead despite massive opposition.

By Steve Anderson 21 Sep 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Anderson is the National Coordinator of OpenMedia.ca. Reach him at steve@openmedia.ca. 

Media Links is a syndicated column supported by Common Ground, The Tyee, Rabble.ca, and VUE Weekly.

Media Links by Steve Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License. You must attribute this work to Steve Anderson, Common Ground, Rabble.ca, The Tyee, and VUE Weekly.

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Oh Brother! Eight out of 10 Canadians oppose Conservative aim to give police wide access to your cell phone and Internet communication.

Under the intense pressure of a 70,000-plus signature Stop Online Spying petition, the government has omitted "Lawful Access" (online spying) bills from the larger omnibus crime legislation. The legislation -- which would introduce costly, warrantless spying of Internet activity in Canada -- will now likely be tabled on its own in the coming days. Today's events mark a major milestone for the Stop Online Spying coalition and the eight in 10 Canadians who oppose the Conservative government's new online surveillance legislation.

The government once again bowing to citizen engagement suggests that the time is ripe to re-imagine the role of both citizens and government. We need a future where governments are increasingly permeable and where citizens are better equipped to govern themselves.

In many ways, the process to re-imagine citizenship and governance seems to be well underway. Citizens are newly empowered by online tools, and this latest development suggests governments may be evolving in order to facilitate deeper civic participation. Sometimes, that process is expressed through enlightened governments opening their activities to the public, such as when the City of Vancouver adopted its openness motion. Other times, the catalyst for this change comes in the form of public pressure in reaction to a poorly thought-out government decision.

The latter appears to be at play concerning the Conservative Party's impending online spying legislation.

The government in your browser

I've written before about how the legislation, if passed, will allow a range of "authorities" to use the Internet (including mobile devices) to collect our private information without a warrant. For example, if you post something on a website that also houses a comment from someone a security agent is concerned about, your private data could be caught up a digital dragnet and entered into a giant registry of private data.

If and when this happens you'll probably never even find out that your information is sitting in an insecure database somewhere. If you think the government can keep your sensitive information secure, you may want to take a look a look at the recent case of the Alberta government mistakenly publishing the identity of a mother and daughter who had changed their identity to escape domestic abuse. If governments are unable to effectively protect information of this level of severity, how are they going to secure all the random data police and other officials will be dragging off the web through "lawful access"?

This legislation is excessive, expensive and downright bizarre. If we care about privacy, the open Internet, and our basic democratic rights, it's time to show Public Safety Minister Vic Toews that jamming online spying down our throats has repercussions. Forcing ISPs to install and employ costly online surveillance infrastructure takes Canada in the wrong direction -- a dangerous move during an already economically precarious time.

Canada's natural snooping party?

This government wants to achieve natural governing party status. If they want to earn that status, they must show respect for Canadians. When they don't, we need to speak up and let them know that there are political consequences for their irresponsible actions.

Recognizing the power of engaged Canadians, the Conservatives did to their credit, respond quickly on the issue of Internet metering earlier this year; backed by the voices nearly of half-a-million Canadians and all major political parties, the Conservatives sent the CRTC back to the drawing board on key pricing rules for independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

That decision worked out very well for Conservatives. They temporarily shifted the blame for the dismal state of Canada's telecom market onto the CRTC, making it seem as if the CRTC is solely responsible for Canada's telecom market being one of the worst of all industrialized countries. Many Canadians saw the Conservatives as heroes when they told the CRTC to reconsider its rules that would allow big telecom companies to impose Internet metering on nearly all Canadian Internet users.

If the Conservatives learned anything at all from that experience, they'll modify their online spying legislation so it's in line with the will of Canadians. The proposed bill will allow authorities to access private information of any Canadian, at any time, without a warrant. This legislation is reckless and irresponsible. We need to make clear that using our personal information without our permission is unacceptable.

We need to send a clear message: When our representatives take a swipe at our privacy and digital economy with no public consultation, there will be consequences. Now is a pivotal moment for Canadians can speak out at stopspying.ca.

[See more Tyee political coverage.]  [Tyee]

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