The Hidden Implications of Lawful Access

Image from sleepymyf on Flickr

With a petition of 100,000 signatures, the overwhelming momentum of’s Stop Online Spying campaign should force Public Safety Minster Vic Toews back to the legislative drawing board. Toews’ Lawful Access bills, or Bill C-30 as they’re collectively now known, have sparked such an uproar that they will bypass the House’s second reading and head directly to the revisionary Committee stage. Whether the Committee’s foremost priority will be the privacy of Canadians; however, is a precedent yet to be known.

Regardless, the Government’s decision to take another look at Lawful Access is a win for all Canadian Internet users and a breakthrough in our fight to preserve the sanctity of our online privacy—a fight, I must mention, that is long from over.

The length to which Toews and Canadian Law Enforcement are willing to go in their solicitation of Lawful Access is telling of a long road ahead. Two weeks following the leak of an email from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) asking its members to dig-up information justifying the snooping bills, 8900 IP addresses associated with online child pornography were used as fodder in hopes of igniting public distress. Later, Toews would appear on CTV’s Power Play, and cite the ‘worrisome’ growth in the number of online child pornographers as grounds for drastically increasing police powers and limiting judicial oversight in the surveillance of Canadians online. Then, finally, on February 2nd, the OPP would hold a press conference to announce the charging of sixty people linked to online child pornography.

With the timing of these events in mind, it becomes evident that Toews and the Authorities were worried about the Public’s acceptance of Lawful Access. So worried, in fact, that they felt it necessary to use the Internet’s most heinous perversion to gather support for their cause. Yet, contrary to their point, the very extent of their efforts resulted in the widespread perception of Lawful Access as gratuitous, overbearing, or underhanded—all of which reasonably apply.

So, why attempt to send Lawful Access through the ultra wash of public relations spin in the first place? It’s fair to believe that most proposed Bills will be unwelcome to at least some portion of Canadians, but most do not receive the same level of high-profile political solicitation of Lawful Access. The likely explanation is copyright.

Alone, Lawful Access presents a real danger to the privacy of law abiding Canadians. Its provisions cast aside the oversight of our courts, and enable the authorities to obtain personal information (name, address, phone number, email, IP address or local service identifier number) from ISPs without a warrant. All that is needed in this process is the suspicion that an individual is partaking in an online illegal activity that’s ‘enough to cause serious harm to a person or property‘ [section 17(1)(b)]. Quite frankly, a shrewd interpretation of property could lead authorities to consider a variable scale of copyright infringements as acceptable grounds for online surveillance. In any case, the far-reaching implications of Lawful Access are not isolated from the intentions of other pending legislature.

Bill C-12, introduced in last September, proposed changes to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents act (PIPEDA), that would allow for organizations (the Act’s definition includes ‘person’) and government institutions to swap consumer information without having individual consent. Again, all that would legally necessitate the circumvention of a citizen’s right to privacy would be the reasonable belief that a law has been, or may be, broken [section (8)(d)(i)]. Together, Lawful Access, and Bill C-12 erode judicial oversight in the surveillance of all Canadians, which applies to not just those sick enough to exploit children, but also those who share copyrighted material on YouTube or Vimeo.

In a day-in-age where Canada’s largest and most accessible ISPs are also content providers, and by extension copyright holders, these bills create an all-too-mutual relationship between ISPs and Canadian law enforcement. A relationship that may place online privacy rights second to commercial interests and national security.

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Topics: Online Spying

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