Thursday, June 18, 2009

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?!

Article Source: CTV: Tories Seek Greater Access to Web Activity
Article Source: CBC: ISPs Must Help Police Snoop on Internet Under New Bill

Imagine my surprise this morning when I woke up and saw this listed on the CTV and CBC news websites. Thanks to the Harper Government, a bill is being introduced in the House of Commons that will make Internet Service Providers (ISPs) co-operate more with police investigations, as well as allow police to access internet communications without the need for a warrent.

Before I can really tell anyone why is this a bad idea, it's important to understand what is being proposed:
*Taken from CTV Source:
  • enable police to access information on an Internet subscriber, such as name, street address and email address, without having to get a search warrant.
  • force Internet service providers to freeze data on their hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence.
  • require Telecom companies to invest in technology that allows for the interception of Internet communications.
  • allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cellphones and certain cars, to help with investigations.
  • allow police to obtain data about where Internet communications are coming from and going to.
  • make it a crime to arrange with a second person over the Internet the sexual exploitation of a child.
Now how many of those sound actively reasonable to anyone reading this? None of them, really, with the possible exception of the last one. Let's take a closer look at what exactly this bill is allowing.

At any point, without a warrent, the police will be able to use your ISP to get your name, address, and e-mail address. Furthermore, this would also allow the police to actively enable a cell phone's GPS unit, commonly used by 911 operators to help locate a person in trouble, to instead keep a watch on your movements.

If you're expected of a computer related crime, the ISP now has the responsibility to backup to their own server the activities of their customers. That means that even if you delete something off of your hard drive, it will still remain in the ISP's hard drive.

But perhaps the kicker is the investment of communication interception technology. That means practically every e-mail, every instant message, every text message you send over a wireless or wired device would/can be monitored and intercepted by this technology and at some point in the future, could be accessed by a police officer without a warrent against you.

Is anyone else seeing the problem here? A few days ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine on classic literature. He was telling me about how he wanted to re-read Huxley's 'Brave New World' and read Orwell's '1984'. He then mentioned a third book, from an academic perspective, that postulated that the 'Big Brother Society' was not as close to reality as Huxley's vision of the future.

Well, thanks to bills like that, that hypothesis might very well be moot.

Affixed at the end of this bill is the illegalization to arrange sexual exploitation of a child over the internet. This actually, is the bill's only merit. As such, I guarantee you that the Conservatives will play up this angle and downplay the others; suggesting that this bill is a means of protecting Canadian children from exploitation, and that those who vote against it do not care about Canadian families.

After all, who can forget the election where the Harper team published fliers that said Paul Martin, then Liberal Leader, supported child pornography? I think it's safe to say the Conservatives will say anything to paint the other team as anti-family and anti-protectionist of children...And I fear we're going to see the same thing with this bill.

While the last thing the bill alludes to makes sense, it is not worth enshrining into law with all the other things affixed to it. I would like to give you all a lesson now about the nature of the legal system.

The idea of Canadian law establishes the fundamental principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. Warrents are the means of helping to establish this guilt; but warrents mean there must be evidence of a wrong-doing in order to secure a warrent in the first place. By telling police and others that a warrent must be put out in order to search a person or their residence for signs of guilt, there must be a level of guilt established before hand.

By removing the necessity of a warrent to access incredibly personal information, and to also be able to track someone through modern technology, removes the presumption of innocence and insteads suggests that the person is guilty and deserves to be watched.

The other problem comes in the form of privacy: When a warrent is passed down through the courts, it is usually presented to the person in question. Effectively, it lets them know that their belongings are going to be searched for evidence of a crime. By removing the need for a warrent, a person will never know whether or not they are being investigated or not.

When you live in a society where you do not know whether you are being monitored or not, you are not living in neither a free or safe society. Ben Franklin once said that those who sacrifice a little bit of liberty for the sake of security will lose both and gain neither. This is indeed the case here.

The problem is, the Harper Government is going to say that they are doing this for the children. They play the single benefit of the bill until the strings of the issue are close to breaking, while downplaying the cost of 'protecting the children'.

While I feel I have said my peace on this issue, there is one more thing I must say: A common argument in favour of these kinds of provisions is that those who speak out against it are those who are committing wrong-doings on the internet; that if you're not doing anything illegal, then this bill shouldn't bother you.

To those people, I must say any loss of social and personal liberty bothers me. If we break the idea of net neutrality, what happens next? Will the Harper Government follow the Bush Administration and begin wire-tapping without a warrent? And would you still say, oh, I don't do anything illegal over the phone, so I'm ok?

What we are talking about is a fundamental invasion of privacy, one that opens the doors to other invasions all in the name of security. I shutter when I think to the future of Canada under a Harper Government, knowing that the landscape and the people will no longer be the same.

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