Canada's lawful access/cyberbullying bill
(C-13) is still creeping through the country's legislative arteries and generally getting worse as time goes on -- as is to be expected when adding cyberbullying to a long list of presumably thwartable horrors like terrorism, child molestation
and drug smuggling. What's desired by many is a generous expansion
of government and law enforcement powers. And those desiring this expansion have the horrific scenarios needed to back up their requests for more access.
The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has begun its hearings on the proposed law, opening with an appearance by law enforcement representatives
. Michael Geist reports:
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) was part of the law enforcement panel and was asked by Senator Tom McInnis, a Conservative Senator from Nova Scotia, about what other laws are needed to address cyberbullying.
We'll pause right there to briefly address McInnis, Nova Scotia and cyberbullying. McInnis is tossing out this leading question because his home province recently passed a truly terrible anti-cyberbullying law
in response to a student's death -- a law that leaves it up to accusers and judges (the accused are not invited) to decide whether any sort of action or communication rises to the extremely low bar of being "harmful" to the accuser's "emotional well-being." If said communications are deemed to be "bullying" (again, without input from the accused), police can seize computers and other electronics, along with user data from the accused's ISPs and then shut off internet access altogether.
Now that we know why McInnis would like to see cyberbullying addressed, we can return to the statement he received in response from Special Inspector Scott Naylor
of the OPP, which ignores the Senator's lob pass and pursues its own agenda.
If the bag was open and I could do anything, the biggest problem that I see in the world of child sexual exploitation is anonymity on the Internet. When we get our driver’s licence we’re required to get our picture taken for identification. When you get a mortgage you have to sign and provide identification. When you sign up for the Internet, there is absolutely no requirement for any kind of non-anonymity qualifier. There are a lot of people who are hiding behind the Internet to do all kinds of crime, including cybercrime, fraud, sexual exploitation and things along those lines.
Because some people do bad things (and maybe get away with it), everyone
should have to apply for a license to use the internet. Sounds very Russian
(and, to be honest, even slightly American
) -- something no government official in any part of the "free world" should even appear
to be considering.
Naylor obviously realizes his idea will be unpopular, hence the "child sexual exploitation" lead-in. That makes his assertion binary
. Either you're for an internet driver's license or you're for child molestation: which is it? This is a common law enforcement affliction -- seeing anything that makes the job slightly more difficult as a barrier to be eliminated. And, as always, technological advancements are portrayed as being solely
advantageous to criminals.
The Internet is moving so quickly that law enforcement cannot keep up. If there were one thing that I would ask for discussion on is that there has to be some mechanism of accountability for you to sign on to an Internet account that makes it like a digital fingerprint that identifies it to you sitting behind the computer or something at that time. There are mechanisms to do it, but the Internet is so big and so vast at this point, and it’s worldwide, I’m not sure how that could happen, but that would certainly assist everybody. In that way I can make a digital qualification that that’s the person that I’m talking to. If I had one choice, that’s what I would ask for.
Hey, a man can dream. And then he should be asked to stop talking before he embarrasses himself further. Law enforcement agencies love busting criminals, but seem to resent everything else about the job, like performing investigations, acquiring warrants, etc. Naylor wants a nice, tidy database of internet users he can access whenever he feels he needs to. Senator McInnis, who should know better than to touch a politically-toxic idea like this, not only approved this comment for inclusion but stated that he "absolutely agreed" with Naylor's Orwellian wish.
But McInnis and Naylor have no idea what they're asking for/agreeing with, at least not in terms of the Canadian court's position on online anonymity.
Leaving aside the deeply troubling inference of requiring licences to the use the Internet in the same manner as obtaining a driver’s licence, the police desire to stop online anonymity suggests that the OPP has not read the Supreme Court of Canada Spencer decision very carefully. If it had, it would know that not only does the court endorse a reasonable expectation of privacy in subscriber information, but it emphasizes the importance of online anonymity in doing so.
Naylor and McInnis have just sacrificed their credibility for one of the shoddiest and overused of rhetorical devices: child molestation. Much like terrorism, the threat of pedophilia is summoned as often as is needed to suppress rational arguments and ensure the desired outcome is obtained. These two threats are routinely abused to route around citizens' protections and rights. Whatever powers are granted are then deployed to handle routine criminal activity, the sort of thing that fails to move legislators or create memorable soundbites. "Child sexual exploitation" has become synonymous with mission creep and rights erosion, but those in the position to make legislative changes are rarely interested in appearing to be "soft" on sex offenders, and pitch in happily to cart away citizens' rights and pave the way for frictionless law enforcement and mission creep.