(Un)Lawful Access

Lawful Access (Bill C-30, also known as Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act) was our last-but-one topic, and since it was posted on the blog, there have been a couple more developments worth tracking.

First, if anyone is still not completely clear on what exactly constitutes Lawful Access legislation and all its ramifications, this video is pretty much essential viewing. Seriously, if you do nothing else, please take the fifteen minutes to watch this video.

What many experts are saying is that the legislation is basically about government control, that they no longer need to believe a “bad guy” is doing something wrong, they simply have to suspect it. In other words, a single cop can find something “hinky” on the internet and simply act on it, without recourse to any of the normal democratic channels.

As one person in the video says, the effect of this legislation would be akin to you sitting at your local coffee shop and knowing there are people on adjacent tables listening to your conversation and ready to report it to the government. Instead of one Big Brother, in other words, we will have an entire society of potentially tattle-taling little brothers.

It’s beyond dispute that civil liberties are impediments to the police doing their jobs; this is a necessary part of our free and open society. This fact, however, is not a rationale for trampling those liberties further. As these experts say, democracy is messy and complex, but we need to find ways to preserve those essential freedoms and not simply give it up along with the expedient urge to punish the bad guys. And those bad guys certainly exist; from terrorists to child pornographers, they are using the internet alongside the rest of us. And that’s okay: we have existing laws and sufficient intelligence/counterintelligence to deal with these serious issues without resorting to drastic police-state-style tactics.

Which brings me back to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and his ill-advised and simplistic binary more reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” than anything in Canadian politics; namely, his claim that opponents of Lawful Access are somehow aligning themselves with child pornographers. Thankfully, it looks like he has reconsidered his statement, which is an encouraging development and one that, incidentally, is actually troubling in another way. He initially appears not to have been fully aware of some of the provisions in the bill, so his vociferous defence of it was even more concerning. In the wake of a Twitter campaign, and upon being alerted to the “exceptional circumstances” under which “any police officer” can request customer information from an ISP, he backed away from wholesale support of the bill and pledged to look into it further. However troubling his loose grasp of the issues might be in hindsight, he should at least be applauded, however, for taking a more considered approach now.

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