Privacy and Protection – Proposed Canadian Bill

Feb 16, 2012


I remember as a child in elementary school, probably in grade four or five, hearing about citizens in the U.S.S.R not being able to congregate in groups of three or more.  The details are hazy from over 25 years since then, but I remember a shock and sadness that a government would not allow citizens to have such a simple freedom as conversing in a group. As a young Canadian prairie kid, I remember gaining a distinct appreciation for the freedoms afforded to us in our country. It may have been groups of four, and I don’t remember if it was at the current time or sometime during the Second World War. We were still living in the Cold War times, so it may have been in the early eighties that this was still true.

Fast forward to the current day. Recently in the U.S.A., SOPA and PIPA were brought forward as bills and vehemently fought by the general public. The bills were slow to draw attention with only a very few in the Tech and Privacy sectors discussing them until worry reached a tipping point and finally people were made aware. Strangely enough, most people became aware of the proposed legislation through the internet.

Not to be left out of the systematic peeling away of democratic rights, this week in Canada, Vic Toews the Minister of Public Safety, tabled a bill originally named the “Lawful Access Act” later renamed to the more catchy “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”. According to the Edmonton Journal:

The bill will require Internet service providers and cellphone companies to install equipment for real-time surveillance and will create new police powers designed to access the surveillance data. This means police can order a telecom company to preserve data for a specified period, but must first obtain a warrant to read the actual content.

The bill will allow for the warrantless access to subscriber information — a provision that triggered a sustained campaign last year by the federal and provincial privacy commissioners to get it scrapped from the bill before the Conservatives re-introduced it. An earlier version of the bill died when the federal election was called last spring.

Their description is a bit misleading in stating that a warrant must be obtained before accessing the information and in the following paragraph states that warrantless access is available. Reading through the bill yesterday, access to at least some of the information collected by the ISP and Telecom companies is indeed available without a warrant. Essentially, there is to be a mechanism to obtain access quickly with a promise to report the access to a supervisor later.

The bill requires ISPs and Telecoms to not only release subscriber information, but to track location and all digital communications for subscribers. This information must also be stored, providing a history of this communication. From my understanding, this data must be kept and stored for all subscribers just in case a warrant is issued.

For me personally, I run my business online using email, websites, social media, etc. I also run my business and personal banking online and unless I need to deposit a cheque, I simply don’t find myself in a bank branch very often. Considering the profiling that can be completed simply with a person’s search history, picture the profiling available with access to everything you do online.  Add to that location profiling and access to mobile conversations. Now picture that information being stored for every single Canadian.

I’ll pause and restate that to let it sink in:

Think about every internet and mobile communication, for every Canadian, being stored in a relatively small number of servers.

A single breach, either through hacking or an unscrupulous “keeper-of-the-data” could destroy the lives of countless Canadians and wreak havoc on our economy. It would quite simply be the largest and juiciest group of hacking targets on the planet.

Those paid to maintain the data that have the power to grant access could be swayed with large sums of cash to leak this information. Some Sys Admin making $60k a year may take a serious look at a bounty that would afford name changes and their remaining years on a private secluded beach.

Of course, sometimes there is just a personal vendetta and a suitable lack of ethics to encourage the unauthorized access. Those that are expected to tend our data are humans too. Humans with problems, ex-spouses, and shitty neighbors. They have disagreements with co-workers and bosses. They, like most of us, have an occasional axe to grind. The burden of access to this amount and type of data will be heavy at the most trying of emotional times of their lives.

As another actor in the system, we look at the RCMP and Police Services that would access this system. I will start by saying that from childhood, I hold officers of the law in high regard and appreciate the risks they face for us everyday. That being said, there is chronic under-staffing across this country (here, here, & here). Members of the RCMP have complaints about the staffing and administration (here). Members of the police are also human and like the Keepers of the Data above, suffer from the day to day pressures and problems of life, and are also susceptible to some of the same pitfalls. Given the under-staffing, I worry about access to this data with or without a warrant becoming a coping mechanism that makes investigations easier and less time consuming in addition to the risk of exercising personal vendettas. Being that they are human, there is, as always, a risk of error or error in judgement that may result in an innocent Canadian’s information being made available without just cause.

Large amounts of data being thrown around is also dangerous. Lets face it, there is not a great track record of public servants safe guarding the data they are entrusted with,(Sadly, I thought I’d find a few links from news stories and then found that site. Depressing to say the least). In a country where one is innocent until proven guilty, what is the price of a lost laptop during an investigation that can destroy the financial and personal life of a Canadian citizen? What about a laptop with information on many investigations? While the claim will be made that guidelines and precautions are in place, those exist today and we see from the above link how well those work.

This proposed legislation underwent a name change and is now being sold as a way to “prevent child pornography”. The name change only happened on Monday after Vic Toews made a remark to an opponent of the bill, stating “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers”.

For one, Toews statement alone is offensive and simple minded. Let’s play this game for a minute: Mark Twitchell killed someone in a rented garage. Mark Twitchell is Caucasian.  Vic Toews is Caucasian. Therefore, using this logic, Vic Toews is a convicted murderer. See? It’s a fun game. Set ‘em up and knock ‘em over.

Toews is purposely trying to simplify the issue into a Fox News like soundbite to garner support, ignoring the obvious complexity of the proposed legislation he has written and tabled. CP is a truly horrible crime with real victims and real criminals that deserve prosecution. Toews is leaning on the emotional pull people will inherently have to stop this type of crime from happening. Unfortunately, in 110 pages of the bill, there is a distinct trampling of rights to privacy for Canadians. Labeling those who want to have a discussion about the intrusion of the government in our personal lives, does not mean that we “stand with the child pornographers” and he’s a deceptive, politicking, dickbag for implying so (but as a murderer, I guess that should be expected).

Under the proposed legislation the Canadian Competition Bureau is also afforded access to to this information with and without a warrant.  While I understand that they are indeed a wing of law enforcement in this country, this is legislation being sold on “preventing CP”. Are they preventing unfair competitive practices in the CP industry?

While there are aspects of the bill that would indeed help to investigate, arrest and prosecute child pornographers, the collection, storage and access to amazing collections of data at the cost of basic privacy to every single Canadian that uses the internet or a mobile phone is a very high cost.  I think Canadians are open to finding solution that facilitate these types of investigations and we should have an open discourse on it. It is however, disingenuous to believe that a bill written and titled generically as the “Lawful Access Act” and later renamed, to be passed without scrutiny because of rhetoric that places opponents to the measures in the legislation in the same camp as a child pornographer.  Canadians deserve better than that.

If this bill is passed into law, then I only have one addendum that I insist is added:

Every member of government at the federal, provincial and municipal level, every municipal police officer, every employee of the RCMP, every employee of CSIS, every employee of the Canadian Competition Bureau  and every employee at every ISP and cellular provider has their data streamed to a website where the Canadian public can monitor the effective safety of their private data. Quite simply, if we can see all of the information, communication, and location of this group of people in real time, we can ensure that our data is not leaked inappropriately. We would effectively now know who watches the watchmen. Besides, if they have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to worry about, right?

And anyone that disagrees with the above addendum to the bill is obviously a pinko, nazi, drug addicted, alchoholic, spouse abusing, child pornographer so I expect it will be added to the legislation promptly.

Get Involved

This legislation is worrisome on many levels. From the systematic erosion of our rights and freedoms, to creating a data target, to risk of lost or mishandled data, to the abuse of access and malicious investigations, it is important that you understand what we are potentially giving up here.

Read the proposed legislation, inform others, sign the petition, and write your MP to tell them how you feel. If Mr. Toews wants a solution that helps decrease CP, then lets discuss ways in which that can happen with out giving up all of our rights to privacy.

Read the legislation:

Read More:

Sign the Petition:

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