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Canada, Telecommunications

Response to Vic Toews’ Email re Bill C-30 Privacy Concerns

I recently sent an email of protest concerning the Internet privacy Bill C-30 via OpenMedia.ca. Interestingly, I got a automated reply back from the Honourable Vic Toews addressing the issues in the email. Unfortunately, the email raises a lot more questions than it answers, for me. Here is my response, with the text of the original email following afterward:

My Response to Vic Toews’ Automated Email

The Honourable Vic Toews:

While I cannot argue that their is a problem with online exploitation, that is true of any media. The question is, is the response being considered appropriate to the level of threat? In my opinion, this is not the best way to deal with the issue, particularly since:

  1. private companies (ISPs) will be responsible for maintaining databases for government use of personal information that they do not currently do; this is especially problematic in that it EXPOSES people more to identity theft and thus exploitation than it would do to protect them – all that data is in many different systems, accessible by many different people, with varying degrees of security.
  2. I do not believe that giving up privacy and personal freedom is the best way to combat social issues, especially given what I’ve seen happen with Homeland Security in the USA.
  3. regardless of intent, the information available can and sooner or later *will* be used for activities other than law enforcement. Huge stockpiles of data like that are very valuable in many ways, which is another reason why I worry about point (1) – that sort of compiled data would be of great value to marketers, identity thieves, etc.

I also have issues with some of the “myths/facts” section of your email:


Myth: Lawful Access legislation infringes on the privacy of Canadians.

Fact: Our Government puts a high priority on protecting the privacy of law-abiding Canadians. Current practices of accessing the actual content of communications with a legal authorization will not change.

For now. Who says what future legislation might bring? I would prefer not to give up my privacy to any extent, and especially not in a way that could be changed at any time in the future to allow broader access to that information already stockpiled.


Myth: Having access to basic subscriber information means that authorities can monitor personal communications and activities.

Fact: This has nothing to do with monitoring emails or web browsing. Basic subscriber information would be limited to a customer’s name, address, telephone number, email address, Internet Protocol (IP) address, and the name of the telecommunications service provider. It absolutely does not include the content of emails, phones calls or online activities.

Again, I can’t see it as being a good trade off in terms of privacy vs. security. My information is already in enough government and commercial databases. While keeping track of EVERYONE’S IP history for a year might help law enforcement officials in a vanishingly tiny percentage of cases, I don’t see that tiny percentage being of enough benefit to outweigh the invasion of my privacy.


Myth: This legislation does not benefit average Canadians and only gives authorities more power.

Fact: As a result of technological innovations, criminals and terrorists have found ways to hide their illegal activities. This legislation will keep Canadians safer by putting police on the same footing as those who seek to harm us.

This is such a broad over-generalization that it is semantically null. Also, the implication is that in order to deal with criminals, police need to be able to use criminal methods (“putting police on the same footing as those who seek to harm us”). As an ethical person, I do not endorse this idea, nor any other reformulation of “the ends justify the means”. Again I point out the slippery slope that the Americans are currently sliding down with this idea vis a vis terrorism & Homeland Security.


Myth: Basic subscriber information is way beyond “phone book information”.

Fact: The basic subscriber information described in the proposed legislation is the modern day equivalent of information that is in the phone book. Individuals frequently freely share this information online and in many cases it is searchable and quite public.

This is a fallacy. The difference here is that some people choose to make that information public, while this legislation would require it. This smacks of the same philosophy that got Mark Zuckerberg in legal trouble with privacy issues on Facebook. Simply because many people choose to share their information does not mean that everyone should therefore have no problem with being required to share their information by default.


Myth: Police and telecommunications service providers will now be required to maintain databases with information collected on Canadians.

Fact: This proposed legislation will not require either police or telecommunications service providers to create databases with information collected on Canadians.

Where this information will be stored then, and who will store it? This infonugget leaves the question begging.


Myth: “Warrantless access” to customer information will give police and government unregulated access to our personal information.

Fact: Federal legislation already allows telecommunications service providers to voluntarily release basic subscriber information to authorities without a warrant. This Bill acts as a counterbalance by adding a number of checks and balances which do not exist today, and clearly lists which basic subscriber identifiers authorities can access.

Again, we have the difference between choice and requirement at issue here. Simply because an ISP can choose to cooperate with authorities is not the same as requiring them to do so. There are quite a few cases I’ve read of where telcos refuse to cooperate without warrants and the like because the authorities quite obviously have no real business requesting certain information. This legislation would take away the ability to withhold information based on the provider’s judgment of the consumer’s best interests and the business’s own privacy policies and ethics.


For your amusement, Rick Mercer’s take on the subject – that is, that Candians aren’t stupid enough to think that it’s either this bad piece of legislation, or being lumped in with child pornographers (why, O why, are the PCs so set and determined to try and drag Canada into US style black-and-white extreme polarization of political issues???)


@ToewsVic someone made buttons. #TellVicEverything on Twitpic

AHHH! I MUST HAVE ONE!

Toews’ Automated Reply

Thank you for contacting my office regarding Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.

Canada’s laws currently do not adequately protect Canadians from online exploitation and we think there is widespread agreement that this is a problem.

We want to update our laws while striking the right balance between combating crime and protecting privacy.

Let me be very clear: the police will not be able to read emails or view web activity unless they obtain a warrant issued by a judge and we have constructed safeguards to protect the privacy of Canadians, including audits by privacy commissioners.

What’s needed most is an open discussion about how to better protect Canadians from online crime. We will therefore send this legislation directly to Parliamentary Committee for a full examination of the best ways to protect Canadians while respecting their privacy.

For your information, I have included some myths and facts below regarding Bill C-30 in its current state.

Sincerely,
Vic Toews
Member of Parliament for Provencher

Myth: Lawful Access legislation infringes on the privacy of Canadians.

Fact: Our Government puts a high priority on protecting the privacy of law-abiding Canadians. Current practices of accessing the actual content of communications with a legal authorization will not change.

Myth: Having access to basic subscriber information means that authorities can monitor personal communications and activities.

Fact: This has nothing to do with monitoring emails or web browsing. Basic subscriber information would be limited to a customer’s name, address, telephone number, email address, Internet Protocol (IP) address, and the name of the telecommunications service provider. It absolutely does not include the content of emails, phones calls or online activities.

Myth: This legislation does not benefit average Canadians and only gives authorities more power.

Fact: As a result of technological innovations, criminals and terrorists have found ways to hide their illegal activities. This legislation will keep Canadians safer by putting police on the same footing as those who seek to harm us.

Myth: Basic subscriber information is way beyond “phone book information”.

Fact: The basic subscriber information described in the proposed legislation is the modern day equivalent of information that is in the phone book. Individuals frequently freely share this information online and in many cases it is searchable and quite public.

Myth: Police and telecommunications service providers will now be required to maintain databases with information collected on Canadians.

Fact: This proposed legislation will not require either police or telecommunications service providers to create databases with information collected on Canadians.

Myth: “Warrantless access” to customer information will give police and government unregulated access to our personal information.

Fact: Federal legislation already allows telecommunications service providers to voluntarily release basic subscriber information to authorities without a warrant. This Bill acts as a counterbalance by adding a number of checks and balances which do not exist today, and clearly lists which basic subscriber identifiers authorities can access.

 

UPDATE Feb 24 2012

Looks like I’m not the only one to take issue with the banalities and semantic nulls in this letter –  Openmedia took Toews’ letter to pieces as well.

Here’s a screen shot, in case of link rot.  You may need to right click on it and select “View Image” if the lightbox doesn’t work properly…

2 Comments

  1. Tyler Style 2012-02-22 18:51

    Nice article in the Globe & Mail that talks up the view that Bill C-30 is not just about eroding civil rights, but also about limiting the power of the judiciary (for example, taking away judges’ ability to sentence appropriately by requiring mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes).

    My favourite quote:

    The online-surveillance bill is the symptom, not the sickness. To protect our privacy, we must end the war on judicial discretion. Want to tell Vic Toews everything? Tell him this: Our judges are not standing with child pornographers when they protect our civil liberties.

  2. Tyler Style 2012-02-22 18:54

    Also, there’s some interesting points raised in the comment thread on Toews’ automated email reply on reddit.

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