(Un)Lawful Access: Canadian Government Wants to Spy on You
Canadian Government Wants to Push Through Mass-Surveillance Legislation
The Canadian Government is once again trying to give itself expanded "Lawful Access" powers, through which police and "intelligence agencies" would be able to collect telecommunications data on Canadian citizens at will and without the need for pesky warrants or probable cause.
ISPs and telecoms would have to build spying tools into their networks, the costs of which would be passed on to us. These tools would then be handed over to police departments and intelligence agencies for use without oversight or audit. What could possibly go wrong?
Proponents of the bill repeat the mantra of "security", even as they lobby for a series of backdoors into ISP infrastructure that would have any hacker or identity thief licking his chops.
Without presenting a single shred of evidence that Canadian police need any more power than they already have (arguable too much as it is, if Toronto's disastrous G20 summit is any indication), you are being asked to believe that handing law enforcement agencies a blank cheque to snoop through your life is actually for your own good.
This is, of course, nonsense. Passing legislation whose only benefit is police convenience comes nowhere close to justifying the dismantling of Canadians' privacy rights.
Should the government have the right to spy on you? No.
I attended the (Un)Lawful Access symposium at the W2 space in Vancouver last night, and got a sneak peek at the BC Civil Liberties Association's analysis of the proposed "Lawful Access" plan. Boy, was it interesting. The 78-page analysis is sitting here in my desk, and it was like reading something out of Brazil.
The panel consisted of:
- Elizabeth Denham, BC Privacy Commissioner
- Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BCCLA
- Christopher Parsons, Researcher at University of Victoria
- Dr. Kate Milberry, Faculty of Information at U of T, producer of (Un)Lawful Access
- Andrew Clement, Faculty of Information at U of T, producer of (Un)Lawful Access, panel moderator
For me, the highlights were Micheal Vonn's engaging breakdown of Lawful Access' social implications, and Christopher Parsons' chilling rundown of the technical aspects of a state-mandated, corporate-implemented surveillance state.
The tortured logic behind "Lawful Access" left me wondering if its proponents were straight-up stupid, or if they had some other motive for compromising civil liberties across Canada, civil liberties that make up the bedrock of a democratic society. I haven't made up my mind yet. Canada's own Public Safety Minister, though, seems determined to make me go with Option A...
The Internet is Not a Phone Book
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says, don't worry. It's just like letting the cops look at a phone book.
So, Vic, you think phone book not only shows my phone number, but also who I'm calling, when I'm calling them, when I'm home, where I'm going, who I'm emailing, and what I'm buying? That's quite a phone book you got there, big guy.
So, one of two things is true:
- Vic Toews is unfamiliar with both phone books and the internet
- Toews is bullshitting you
I'm going with the second one, to be perfectly honest.
U of T associate law professor Lisa Austin is far more eloquent than I:
What did I do online this week? I corresponded with colleagues, students, professional contacts, family and friends and checked out some online discussion forums. I did research for work and for personal projects, reading many Web pages, downloading articles and purchasing books. I shopped and downloaded music and movies. Other aspects of my life are stored online, including my calendar, my task list and many of my work files. I access this from work, from home, from my smartphone and from my tablet.
What did I do on the phone? I talked to my mom and some telemarketers.
My main problems with the "Lawful Access" proposals are as follows:
- No proven need for this legislation in the first place.
- Ripe for abuse: every country with similar powers has seen widespread abuse (Iran, UK, and USA spring to mind). Canada arguably has a police-power crisis as it is.
- Inherently insecure: creating backdoors in a network for simultaneous third-party access in the name of "security" is like fucking for virginity.
- Forcing private telecoms to become agents of the state basically kicks democracy in the balls.
- The Maher Arar case shows what happens when slipshot intelligence work, lack of oversight, and over-zealous information-gathering and -sharing come together.
- You want me to pay for my own surveillance? Where do you get your crack?
As Michael Geist reminds us, once we go down the road of total surveillance, we can never really go back.
You can read the BCCLA analysis yourself:
There have been no public hearings on the "Lawful Access" proposals, and it's pretty clear why: they'd last about six seconds in a Charter challenge. Still, the Conservative government is hoping to do what the US government did: use the specters of cybercrime and terrorism to bully the courts into torpedoing the Constitution.
Canadian voters, you simply cannot allow this. The video below, "(Un)Lawful Access" discusses some of the issues above in greater detail. Visit StopSpying.ca for more resources.