I hate writing politics posts about specific bills, because invariably with this government they boil down to “augh, this is terrible, ineffective, and profoundly uncanadian, and I’m embarrassed that these yahoos are running our government,” which while accurate, doesn’t make for much of a read. So, new tack this week: let’s talk about the (hilarious) reactions to it, and see what that says about us as a nation.
Okay, but first some context (and a bit of gnashing of teeth). The bill is C-30, commonly called the “Lawful Access Bil,” and it requires all telecommunications companies in Canada to maintain technological infrastructure to allow for any telecommunications information to be intercepted by the authorities. While the telecoms must comply if the authorities (i.e., the police) go to them with a warrant and request information, there’s also a provision that ensures that if the police go to the telecoms without a warrant, the telecoms have the option of providing information about their subscribers without fear of criminal prosecution (presumably for invasion of privacy).
(1) For greater certainty, no preservation demand, preservation order or production order is necessary for a peace officer or public officer to ask a person to voluntarily preserve data that the person is not prohibited by law from preserving or to voluntarily provide a document to the officer that the person is not prohibited by law from disclosing.
(2) A person who preserves data or provides a document in those circumstances does not incur any criminal or civil liability for doing so.
Oh, fantastic. The fact that this has been wrapped up under the blanket of “protecting the children from pedophiles” is reprehensible – does anyone actually believe that that’s what this bill will be used for? Especially with the current Prime Minister who goes around saying that people who disagree with him are traitors and un-Canadian? Fortunately, most of the rhetoric about that has been dropped, since it’s so obviously a ludicrous facade.
Anyhoo, you’re all clever people – you can see why this is a Really Bad Idea without me spelling it out in so many words and resorting to copious expletives.
And so can Canadians at large, and we’re not happy about it. But while we’re yelling about it on the internet, we’re also being wry about it. First there was the Vikileaks twitter account (now unavailable), which sidetracked into a finger pointing session when the account was traced to one of the two static IP addresses for the House of Commons, shared by at least hundreds of people. Parliament is investigating the account, and my purely speculative theory is that it’s someone tied to the Conservative party who’s unhappy about the bill (or Toews himself). It’s a very polite sort of protest, in that you’re just repeating back what you’ve (allegedly) said on the record. It’s not slander if you were the person who said it, or if the accusations are true. The veracity of the posts are unverified, but I’m willing to bet that the majority of them are accurate. Whoever was behind it must’ve realized the attention it would bring, especially if they work at the House of Commons. That’s not the sort of thing you play around with unless you’ve got good information, because it will come back to bite you if you don’t. But the politeness of it really struck me: the tweets were all very matter of fact, not rudely written or overly aggressive. Just plain statements, with the weight and gravity assumed to be obvious. (I didn’t save any of the tweets, so unfortunately don’t have anything to show this explicitly.)
A more crowd-sourced response was #TellVicEverything and #DontToewsMeBro. The two hashtags have been filled with opinions about lunch options, quips about procrastinating at work, and all sort of banalities that are sure to be typical of the majority of the data gathered under this bill. The majority of the things we do on the internet are not exciting and certainly aren’t indicative of criminal activity or plotting to overthrow the government (as this government seems disproportionately preoccupied with). The majority of data gathered under this bill will be the digital equivalent of a purseful of grocery store receipts: boring, generic, and not the slightest bit interesting.
The Twitter response is a resigned sort of protest, because of course the bill will go through in some form, and there’s not a whole hill of beans we can do about it with a majority government. While it’s comical, it’s a pretty mild response to an invasion of privacy potentially perpetrated by anyone with a police badge. Reactions to internet privacy bills in the U.S. resulted in a much louder, angrier backlash, and the lack of vitriol here underscores just how resigned we are as a nation to our government. Sure, the majority of us don’t like them, and many of us are very angry about the Conservatives being in power, but rather than raising hell about it, the collective response is dominated by a shrug and collective satire. Satire is a potentially powerful tool, but the shrug is what worries me. That shrug is a lot of how we got this government in the first place.
There’s indications that the bill will be modified – Toews is now saying he’s unhappy about some parts of the bill that he ostensibly wasn’t aware of (which is a whole other issue) and the clause that allows surveillance without a warrant may be scrapped. The bill is currently in the first reading.