Another Victory For The Public Speaking Up: Canada Drops Digital Spying Bill (For Now)

from the a-good-step dept

A year ago, we had a series of posts concerning attempts in Canada to pass a "lawful access" bill, which is a nice way of saying "a bill to let Canadian law enforcement spy on your digital information." Politicians who supported this, like Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, kicked things off in the most ridiculous of ways, saying that anyone who was against such a bill supported child pornographers. In response, tons of Canadians spoke up, even creating a whole meme in which they revealed random info to Toews. And, of course, when people shared some of Toews' own info, he went ballistic.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Canadian government has agreed not to move forward with the bill, claiming that they "listened" to the concerns of the public:
We will not be proceeding with Bill C-30 and any attempts that we will continue to have to modernize the Criminal Code will not contain the measures contained in C-30, including the warrantless mandatory disclosure of basic subscriber information or the requirement for telecommunications service providers to build intercept capability within their systems. We've listened to the concerns of Canadians who have been very clear on this and responding to that.
This is, undoubtedly, another big win for consumers speaking out when their government tries to put in place something ridiculous. As always, Michael Geist has an excellent analysis of what this all means, including that we should add this to the still small, but rapidly growing list of internet advocacy success stories. But, of course, as with any of these success stories, the story is not actually over. He notes that there are still problems and challenges concerning privacy of info:
Third, even with Bill C-30 dead, there is a problem with the current system of voluntary disclosure of customer information by ISPs. The lawful access debate placed the spotlight on the fact that ISPs disclose customer information tens of thousands of times every year without court oversight. The law permits these disclosures, but there are no reporting requirements or accountability mechanisms built into the process. Those are needed and the government should move swiftly to add this to the law, either within Bill C-12 (the PIPEDA reform bill) or Bill C-55, which was introduced yesterday.

Fourth, Bill C-30 may be dead, but lawful access surely is not.  On the same day the government put the bill out its misery, it introduced Bill C-55 on warrantless wiretapping. Although the bill is ostensibly a response to last year's R v. Tse decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, much of the bill is lifted directly from Bill C-30.  Moreover, there will be other ways to revive the more troublesome Internet surveillance provisions. Christopher Parsons points to lawful intercept requirements in the forthcoming spectrum auction, while many others have discussed Bill C-12, which includes provisions that encourage personal information disclosure without court oversight.  Of course, cynics might also point to the 2007 pledge from then-Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to not introduce mandatory disclosure of personal information without a warrant. That position was dropped soon after Peter Van Loan took over the portfolio. 
This is a key point that many people keep trying to drive home. There have been a few very important internet advocacy success stories recently, but these fights don't end when a single bill is killed. Supporters of bad policies are playing the long game -- pushing for these changes in a variety of different places in a variety of different ways over a long period of time. Killing one part is absolutely a victory, but it still requires significant and continued vigilance.
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Filed Under: canada, digital spying, lawful access, surveillance

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  1. identicon
    Irving, 14 Feb 2013 @ 12:24pm

    Big Deal...

    This only means that they'll continue to do it without enabling legislation.

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