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Bye, bye, privacy. Canada introduces online-spying bill

Published time: February 14, 2012 23:04
Edited time: February 15, 2012 03:04
A person wears a Guy Fawkes mask while using an Apple iPhone at the Occupy Toronto movement in Toronto. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

A person wears a Guy Fawkes mask while using an Apple iPhone at the Occupy Toronto movement in Toronto. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Move over, SOPA and say your prayers, PIPA. There’s a new bill in the works that, if passed, will pull the plug on how the Internet is used in Canada.

Lawmakers in the Great White North are debating a bill that will pulverize what’s left of online privacy for Canucks.

The Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act (Bill C-51) is legislation that isn’t new to Canadian Parliament, but after a series of additions and other changes, lawmakers there are expected to begin discussion on it this week. If passed, law enforcement there will be able to monitor all Internet and telephone activity from anyone, anywhere in the country, without having to obtain a warrant.

According to the Calgary Herald out of the province of Alberta, a Conservative-majority government is likely to pass the bill.

Vic Toews, Canada’s minister of public safety, thinks the bill is necessary for the welfare of the nation. "We are proposing to bring to measure, to bring laws into the twenty-first century and provide police with the lawful tools that they need," he pleads.

Opponents of Toews, however, say that the bill will do far more harm than good.

"I know the criminal justice system is constantly looking for information about criminals, child pornographers etc, but at the same time it seems like an invasion of everyone's personal information," University student Jared Exner tells CTV. He’s used the Internet his whole life and is aware of legislation already in place to thwart such things as child pornography. If Bill C-51 is passed, however, anyone operating on the Web or on a mobile device in Canada will be subject to instantaneous, no-questions-asked surveillance.

Towes insists that it’s an issue that’s either black or white. Canadians, says the minister, "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

In an earlier form, the bill died in Parliament along with a provision that allowed “warrantless access” for authorities. A campaign managed to help kill that addendum, but it is back once again. If passed, authorities will be able to view anything, anytime, and some fear that it was install Big Brother over all too broad of a medium.

"It could include anything from email addresses to IP addresses and cellphone-identified numbers," University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist tells the Winnipeg Free Press. "The ability to use that kind of information in a highly sensitive way without any real oversight is very real."

By forcing Internet and cell providers to handle IP addresses, profiles can be constructed of any Canuck that details practically every move they make online. Geist thinks of that as way too encompassing of a regulation and questions why it is even needed.

"One thing (the government) has never provided is the evidence to show how the current set of laws has stymied investigations or created a significant barrier to ensure that we're safe in Canada,” he adds.

Others fear that if Canadian officials have the power to monitor in real-time without warrants, the all-watching eye will seemingly cease civil liberties.

"How can we trust them not to use private information to intimidate law abiding Canadians to protest a pipeline, or protest pension cut?" asks Francis Scarpaleggia, a Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Loius. Like Exner, Scarpaleggia is opposed to the bill. New Democratic Party member and digital critic Charlie Angus also is against it, and warns Parliament that, if passed, it will turn each Canadian’s cell-phone into “an electronic prisoner’s bracelet.”

"I say to Vic Toews, 'Stop hiding behind the boogey man. Stop using the boogey man to attack the basic rights of Canadian citizens,’” adds Angus. “Is Vic Toews saying that every privacy commissioner in this country who has raised concerns about this government's attempt to erase the basic obligation to get a judicial warrant, is he saying that they're for child pornography?"

Nearly 100,000 Canadians have so far signed a "stop online spying” petition started by openmedia.ca, a net neutrality lobby group.