Internet snooping law needs more than cosmetic changes

The just introduced Internet snooping legislation is causing concern among some mainstream Conservative government supporters.  Since its introduction on Valentine’s Day, it has been questioned, denounced, and/or criticized well beyond the privacy, human rights and civil liberties communities.  “Licence to snoop,” the editorial in The National Post and comments of concern “I think it’s too intrusive”  from several of its own MPs reveal cracks in the usually satin-smooth Conservative solidarity veneer.

This legislation (misleadingly titled “Protecting Children from Internet Preditors Act) would allow law enforcement agencies to seek certain types of information about Internet users without having to seek a judicial warrant.  It also lacks adequate oversight measures, lowers the standards for authorization of deeper information searches, and forces Internet service providers to install costly monitoring equipment.  For a government that killed the long form census and the long gun registry, authorizing this kind of privacy invasion is becoming hard to explain.  During a CBC radio interview on Feb. 15, the minister tried to suggest the being able to requisition information about individual Internet users, whether they are suspected of a crime or not and without their knowledge, was not invasive:

“What this bill does is it doesn’t target people generally, it specifically uh assists police in the investigation of crime so they’re looking at specific individuals for crimes.  The long gun registry is a general registry that encompasses every single gun owner in this country whether they’re a criminal or not or whether they’re suspected of a crime or not.  So this is a very, very different targeted piece of legislation as opposed to the broad uh criminal compulsion to register uh guns in the long gun registry uh is which is of course we’re getting rid of.” (http://www.cbc.ca/ottawamorning/episodes/)

He had to have been anticipating the question, but the response stumbles along as though the government didn’t foresee the looming pothole in their reasoning.  Despite Toew’s insistence, during the interview, that he was not surprised by the backlash, recent announcements suggest differently.

Still trying to sound tough while backpeddling, the government announced that the bill would be sent directly to committee for study, allowing MPs to make “targeted” suggestions for amendments before second reading.  Although this represents a window towards improvement, it remains to be seen how far the government is willing to back down.

Marita Moll is an author, researcher, and organizer of the (Un)lawful Access – Ottawa Forum.

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