Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tonight We're Going to Party Like It's...1984?

Source: CTV News: Online Surveillance Bill Will Fight Cyber Crime: Minister

Does anyone understand the Conservative Party of Canada anymore? There was a time when the Conservatives were so called 'champions' of less intrusive government and individual freedoms and liberties. Yet, since coming to power the Conservatives have continually proven that this is an ideal they no longer hold. With Public Safety Minister Vic Toews pronouncing CSIS can use information derived from torture, it would seem he is now emboldened by taking away foreign peoples' civil rights and is now looking closer to home.

The Conservatives have introduced what they call the 'Protecting Children from Internet Predators' Act and robbing Canadians of their civil liberties is exactly what this bill is about.

Unlike the SOPA debate in the USA, this is not about censorship of the internet or complex regulation that could turn anyone who posts a link to something else into a copyright violator (relax, they have Bill C-11 for that); rather, this is a bill that they have wrapped in the protective flag of 'keeping our children safe'.

So, what exactly is this bill and why is it a problem?

Well, the Conservatives are downplaying the reach the bill will provide...But bloggers, activists, and opposition members are challenging the wording of the bill and just how much power it gives to many different people.

For starters, the bill will induce Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into providing information to 'certified individuals' upon request without the need for a warrant. This information is comprised of 6 pieces of key information: Your name, your address, telephone number, e-mail address, Internet Protocol (IP) address, and the name of your local service provider.

Now, let's explore the IP address information first. Your IP address is like a virtual thumbprint, it is a recording that is unique to your internet connection and leaves a stamp when you visit a website. So, let's say you visit this blog. By connecting to this blog, a record is made somewhere that records your IP address and says what time you accessed the blog.

Furthermore, your IP address is recorded each time you visit...So, if you visit the blog 6 times a day, it would be recorded six times.

Presently, IP addresses are logged by your ISP. And if the police approach your ISP and ask for information, most ISPs comply and hand over the information...Without a government bill telling them that they need to hand over this information.

Of course, though, officers of the law often arrive with a warrant to get this information. What this bill does now, is cut out the middle man (a pesky little thing called presumption of innocence) and allows those with certified access to see this records immediately.

Though the Conservatives have thought of a fail safe for this to prevent abuse: Warrant-less access will be reviewed by a panel led by a Government Minister...Someone like Vic Toews, who introduced the legislation and would get a fair amount of egg on his face if it came out that someone was misusing the legislation...But surely this panel would be open and transparent...

Sure, cause this government is known for openness and transparency; after all, they're so transparent that the NDP is fighting the Conservatives who want to increase the number of committees that meet en-camera (aka behind closed doors and under a cloak of secrecy that forbids those inside the committee from talking about the actions of the committee outside of the committee.)

So, yeah, this system totally has foolproof fail safes.

Now, let's talk some technical information, shall we?

Do you know software pirates? You know, those people who use the internet to share programs instead of shelling out $400 or more to buy the software legally. I'm sure we all know someone who pirates internet programs, and as such, these people already know ways around the bill being proposed.

Do you know what a proxy is? A proxy is a program that causes your IP address to appear as someone else's IP address. Programs like this are popular among non-American citizens so that they can mask their IP address to access US-Only web services like Hulu or Pandora.

Furthermore, proxies are only the first internet defence used by people who pirate programs; the setting up of so-called 'virtual machines', the use of encrypted downloading software, and encrypted hard drives further protect people who commit illegal acts online.

And while you can shut down proxies services, new ones are introduced every day. Take MegaUpload, which was shut down by the US Government last month. Despite being shut down, the next day numerous MegaUpload websites were re-upped to the internet.

So why do I mention this?

I mention this because the methods of getting around this bill already exist. What this bill will do is not increase the odds of catching people who break the law online, it will further educate them. People adapt and learn to avoid the methods that will end up with them being caught. As such, this is a bill that will only serve to push people into using methods that make them harder to catch.

This is important because as those people 'flee' from the regular internet, and into the so called 'deep net', the only people this bill attack are the law abiding every day folk and the so called 'stupid' criminals.

That means it's our activity that is being monitored. Our mundane e-mails, and instant messages. Our blog posts and Facebook updates.

This is not a bill that is designed to catch criminals, it is designed to make them smarter. Furthermore, let's ask one important question:

This is the Protecting Children from Online Predators Act, so why is the Competition Bureau (an agency which monitors Canadian businesses and protects 'truth in advertising') listed as an agent which would be given the authority to access this information without a warrant from ISPs?

Last I checked, the Competition Bureau wasn't in the business of cracking down on online predators. So, with this in mind, how can we really trust that this act is not going to invade public privacy? After all, this bill is wrapped in the idea of 'protecting the children' but it contains measures that have nothing to do with protecting children at all.

Essentially, this bill is flawed on many levels...Likely because an almost 60 year old Public Safety Minister and his fellow 50+ Conservative cronies don't fully understand the internet. After all, using former Republican Senator Ted Stevens as a method of what some older generations think of the internet: It's not a dump truck, it's a series of tubes!

Is that the same kind of thinking guiding our politicians? I mean, does Vic Toews (without the aid of a younger aide) even know what a proxy is if someone asked him? Or what the heck the 'deep net' is?

I doubt it.

So, why should someone who barely understands what they're trying to legislate be given carte blanche to legislate that very thing?

That would be like asking a bunch of 50+ year old men to weigh in on whether or not a woman should be allowed to choose to have an abort....Oh, yeah, that's right.

The fact of the matter is that this is a government of hypocrisy. They're scrapping the gun registry and destroying the documents behind it because of its affect on 'innocent' gun owners and the invasion of privacy those documents stand for...

Yet, they are now saying that the bulk of 'innocent' internet users aren't entitled to the same privacy as gun owners. Yes, Virginia, there is a hypocrite, and it's called the entire Conservative Party of Canada. Privacy for some, complete invasion of privacy for others.

We need to wake up, Canada. This is not about protecting children, regardless of how many Cabinet Ministers are going to stand up and say that it is. This is an oversweeping actthat will provide almost unlimited power to police, but to members of the bureaucracy as well. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, we want strong police to keep us safe after all, it is a problem when the cost of this power comes at the sacrifice of personal rights and privacy.

Imagine a world where every move you make was watched. George Orwell wrote about such a world in his book 1984. In a digital age, the moves we make are more and more made online. While we may not see CCTV cameras thrown up on every street corner, surveillance of the internet is the modern equivalent of those CCTV cameras.

There are those who say that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. But how often have people hiding things had those things revealed?

If you subscribe to a pornographic website, featuring legal images, should the government have the right to know that? You're an adult, you work for your money, and you choose to spend some of that money viewing pornography. Even though you may not tell anyone about it, suddenly someone somewhere knows. and it becomes incredibly possible that some how that information will get out...After all, how many times have we seen private medical records show up on street corners or dumpsters?


The fact that this information can be collected is the first step to this information being used incorrectly and furthermore, that information being found in the wrong hands.

This is legislation that suggests that everyone who uses the internet is a criminal just waiting to be caught. It destroys the presumption of innocence, and furthermore the lack of the need for a warrant, robs all of us of the due legal process that our justice system is meant to provide.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd say that this is the first salvo in ensuring that all those new prisons the Conservatives are about to build will get filled...But, like I said, this bill is not going to catch any real criminals or the criminals that the Conservatives are saying this bill will catch. Rather, it will make imaginary criminals of us all.

Perhaps that's what Toews had in mind when he said that if you aren't supporting the legislation you're supporting child pornographers to an opposition member in the House of Commons. Yes Mr. Toews, in your mind we're all criminals, you've made that abundantly clear. But you don't have to put that into law.

1 comment:

leftdog said...

It is sure nice to see the reaction of the Canadian public to this. Toews has handled this badly. The Bill is actually much worse than I thought. There are a couple of sections that do set the stage for 1984ish directions. Great post.