Home CommentaryOpinions Invasion of Privacy Spills over to the Web

Invasion of Privacy Spills over to the Web

by Archives February 17, 2009

The Internet is a dangerous place. There are pedophiles, terrorists, and credit card fraud lurking around every virtual corner. Or at least that’s what the government wants us to believe.
This past week national public safety minister Peter Van Loan unveiled plans for new legislation relating to law enforcement’s ability to perform electronic surveillance of Canadians over the Internet. While the law’s exact details are quite vague, the general theme seems to be geared at countering the fact that police are falling behind in the face of new technology.
RCMP and local police forces have been pushing for this for some time, claiming they need new legislation to root out so-called online criminal “safe havens.”
Online surveillance has been problematic in countries engaging in this type of legislation for one major reason. Unlike a phone tap which is activated the moment the warrant is provided, online surveillance requires service providers to gather and store data almost constantly, as well as grant access to that data to police once a warrant is presented. Essentially, a pre-emptive data bank of online activity will be created for every Canadian citizen, and with that kind of information lying around there’s only one thing you can ask.
Should you trust your government?
These days it’s getting harder and harder to say yes to that. As it stands, the majority of online surveillance falls largely under the wings of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in Canada whose mandate was blurred and made quite vague in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Under an amendment to the National Defence Act the minister of defence has the power to authorize surveillance of messages linked to terrorism without a warrant.
In January 2004 this power was enacted to collect information that was then utilized by police to justify a raid on the home of an Ottawa Citizen journalist named Juliet O’Neil, because she refused to reveal a confidential source to authorities. This is a gross violation of the freedom of press that is so deeply enshrined in Canadian values, not to mention that it circumvented the legal necessity for a warrant to carry out this type of action.
South of the border the outgoing administration is leaving a seemingly endless trail of warrant-less surveillance and disregard for the rule of law, and it seems that our government is edging closer to this standard. I understand the necessity for our law enforcement personnel to keep up with a digital world, but at what cost to our civil liberties? By mandating Internet service providers to engage in mass surveillance the government is opening a veritable Pandora’s box of possible threats to the privacy of Canadians.
Federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has expressed her concern over the legislation stating that there is “no compelling argument put forward for its justification.”
The classic arguments of child porn, pedophiles and terrorists hiding out online just aren’t enough to warrant this legislation. Let’s face it, if I posted a picture of an eight-year-old boy in a sailor outfit and changed my Facebook status to “planning an attack” I’d bet a year’s tuition that I never hear from a single pedophile or terrorist. Freedom of speech and the right to free expression are too valuable to compromise. It’s only a few steps from surveillance to censorship, and I hope to never see that door opened.

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