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A new threat to privacy rights in Canada on the internet?

Under a rather Orwellian sounding name for a proposed bill – The Investigative Powers for the 21st Century (IP21C) Act – the Conservative government has put forth proposed surveillance legislation for the internet that I am very uneasy about at first blush:

Internet service providers would have to make it possible for police and intelligence officers to intercept online communications and get personal information about subscribers under bills tabled Thursday…Nicholson said the government believes the proposed legislation strikes an “appropriate balance” between law enforcement’s investigative powers to protect public safety and the privacy and rights and freedoms of Canadians.

What makes me uneasy about this proposed legislation? The first and most obvious part is  this part here, as talked about by University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist at his blog today:

...the bill requires all ISPs to surrender customer name, address, IP address, and email address information upon request without court oversight. In taking this approach, Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has reneged on the promise of his predecessor and cabinet colleague Stockwell Day, who pledged not to introduce mandated subscriber data disclosure without court oversight.

And why has Peter Van Loan done that? Why, apparently the police having to get a pesky court warrant and, you know, justify that they have reasonable cause to be doing the snooping would apparently slow down investigations. I contend that this would be potentially highly subject to abuse by the authorities, if they’re allowed to have a free hand without any court supervision.

Do we want to give our police tools to be able to catch criminals? Of course, but as Michael Geist says, not at the expense of privacy right without showing they need such wide-sweeping laws that amount to privacy infringement:

Lawful access has been on the public agenda for years, with law enforcement has demanded new powers but not providing compelling evidence that the current system has created serious barriers to their investigations.  For example, last year CIRA caved to law enforcement pressure for a backdoor to WHOIS domain name registrant information.  More than a year later, law enforcement has never once used this backdoor.  Given the potential for misuse (Greece, U.S. telcos), the onus should be on law enforcement to demonstrate how the current system has harmed investigations and then we should work on ensuring that there is always – including for customer name and address information – appropriate court oversight.

Without heavy amendment to this bill – and the first amendment should be requiring court oversight on such information gathering – there is no way I can support this bill.  I’m fully expecting Professor Geist to start leading a grassroots campaign against this bill as he has with over-the-top copyright proposals, and I’m onboard with that expected upcoming effort.

In my view, the sooner this grassroots pressure is started, the better; considering what just happened with Bill C-15 and how the Liberals blindsided a lot of their grassroots members by supporting that bill (and facing public  pressure too late to change that outcome), and considering the Liberals have put forth some similar legislation to this one  back in Prime Minister Paul Martin’s time,  the time to start making some noise about this to show this bill is not supportable in its current form is now.

It’s  to make sure the LPC knows  well in advance of any vote on this proposed bill what some of the public stance on this is, because you know what the Conservatives are going to try and do; they’ll be trying to make this into a wedge issue about this bill being a battle against kiddie porn on the internet, and how no one could be against their bill because of that. Well, there is more to this issue then that simplistic hot button approach… and the Liberals need to be given encouragement to have some spine on this issue and forcefully reject such hot button charges.

Sure, give the police new tools, but make sure there is someone watching so that the tools aren’t abused.

7 comments to A new threat to privacy rights in Canada on the internet?

  • Liam Young

    Dare I say, it’s not the warrant (or prospect of no warrants) I’m concerned about.

    It’s the complete extinction of competition with ISPs that we’ll have as a result of the excessively redundant but costly infrastructure that all independent ISPs will have to pay to support the requirements laid out in these proposed laws.

    This law was written with the help of Rogers, which has its eyes on eliminating any and all competition for access to the Internet. With small ISPs no longer able to afford the cost of monitoring, they’ll either fold or be bought out by our unloved media conglomerates.

    Once again, Conservatives have shown that they’ll gladly kill innovation, ecommerce, Canada’s Internet and the growing competition to their pet media friends, Bell and Roger, all in the name of stopping unstoppable crimes like kiddie porn, gambling and piracy.

    This has to stop. Surprisingly, Internet freedoms could become an election issue!

  • Josh Barnett

    This is really scary.

  • Advisor

    WRITE to your MP. Send them an email with your comments. They exist to represent all of us. I just did mine, and yes this will turn us into a police state pretty much like what is happening in Iran like now, where a few are trying to control the freedom of speech of quite a lot of people. You can find your MP going to this web site:

    Write to your MP and demand that they represent you in something that will turn your “innocent until proven guilty” into something completely different.

  • Tim

    Kwittet: I heard that lame spin, but it’s simply not true. Police will be able to get identifying information WITHOUT ANY WARRANT.

    Determined “criminals” will simply move to encryption and offshore. This is simply more law-and-order pandering and a solution in need of a problem.

  • kwittet

    I listened to a radio show today and Peter Vanloan was on it explaining this bill. He said police WILL HAVE TO HAVE A WARRANT FIRST before they can obtain private information which means they will have to prove to a judge that there is enough evidence to warrent an investigation.and there is also a clause in there that the bill will be looked at in 5 years to see if it is doing the job they hope it is.

  • I’m totally against this bill because it is unneeded. If the police think they have reasonable and probable grounds, they can get a warrant from a judge to intercept any communications.

    I recommend from now on that everyone communicate via encrypted channels – use PGP and encrypted email, MSN with SimpLite, or some other means.

    Screw these fascist Conservatives, disobey this blatant grab at our freedoms…

  • Big Winnie

    I’m totally against this bill. Without oversight, as you’ve noted, abuse is going to occur and people’s lives will be adversely affected. For example, Scott, if you posted a blog that contained something that the government didn’t like, what’s to prevent them from ordering the “police” to invade your privacy?

    Does that make sense?

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