The Aquinian

‘Online spying’ bill an attempt to extend state power

Sean Thompson - The Political Animal (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Talk of “lawful access,” the lifeless term that has dominated the last two weeks of Canadian politics, is bullshit.

“Online spying” is a more accurate description of what Bill C-30, misleadingly named the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, would allow: government and police collection, without a warrant or probable cause, of internet records.

The bill doesn’t limit this spying to criminal investigations – according to departmental memos, police will use this power for “non-criminal, general policing duties.” It doesn’t require police to ever dispose of collected records – they can keep anybody’s internet history indefinitely.

It specifically denies people the right to know if the police are collecting their information, even if they ask.

And it doesn’t allow any oversight of police use of what they collect.

This is not a line-by-line criticism of the bill. Folks like internet law expert Michael Geist do that more completely than I ever could.

This is about politics, cynicism, power, and the explosive destruction it can all create.

It begins with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. His preposterous suggestion that we could “either stand with [the government] or with the child pornographers” had little to do with the substance of the bill, which mentions neither children nor pornographers.

It did, however, expose a bill previously only criticized by privacy advocates to public scrutiny it can’t withstand.

The unnecessarily vindictive revelation of Toews’ divorce case via the Vikileaks Twitter account has also unhelpfully obscured the issue: whether the increasingly self-serving and abusive body of Canadian law enforcement should collect anyone’s internet history and use it for their own ends.

Doubtlessly few who remember the needless death of Robert Dziekanski, the ensuing cover-up, the kettling and arrest of hundreds of bystanders during the 2010 G-20 meetings, the winter abandoning of aboriginal men outside Saskatoon by police, or last week’s strip search of a man whose daughter drew a picture of a gun at school, would or should trust police with such uninhibited power.

Never mind that lawyers must already be preparing constitutional arguments against Bill C-30. Most people are tacitly assuming the bill’s drafters have written the bill in full compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If the Supreme Court (and if this bill comes into law it will come before the Supreme Court) determines the bill violates section 8 rights against unreasonable search and seizure, there’s a chance child pornographers could get off scot-free – not exactly the government’s intent.

It’s also worth noting that this Conservative bill is in complete contrast to principles Conservative and conservative. This intrusion on people’s privacy makes no sense for the party that scrapped the long-form census on privacy grounds.

This assault on the expected rights of law-abiding Canadians makes no sense for the party that’s scrapping the rights-assaulting long gun registry. This expansion of state power makes no sense for a party deeply imbued in populist, small-government tradition.

The set-up cost of the bill will almost certainly exceed its $80-million projection, if the gun registry and provincial E-health registries are any guides.

Under massive public uproar, the Harper government has referred Bill C-30 to committee and backed away from any firm timeline to pass it. So far though, it has proved little more than an attempt by the government not to principally protect children, but to shamelessly expand state People across both the country and the political spectrum are smelling the brimstone from the Conservatives and this can only serve as a warning to the government that it must change the bill, if not withdraw it altogether, to avoid being severely burned.

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