In the past month the notorious Bill C-30, commonly referred to as the ‘Online Spying Bill’, has been largely forgotten in the aftermath of massive public backlash against it and its staunch defender, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The bill would require internet service providers and cell phone companies to hand over the sensitive personal information of its customers (IP addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, credit card numbers, browsing history, etc.) to law enforcement upon request, even without a warrant. The legislation was put on hold in late February in response to a major public outcry against the bill, its violation of basic rights to privacy, and Toews himself, who claimed Canadians could side either with the bill or with the child pornographers (whom it was supposed to target). However, a recent report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the House of Commons suggests the bill may be returning to the light of day in the near future, and with even more invasive provisions than it had previously.
The report reaffirms the measures which would require telecommunications service providers to give up its customers’ sensitive personal information upon request, without a warrant, to law enforcement. This reaffirmation should be somewhat demoralizing to the many Canadians who made it clear that the bill threatened to violate their constitutional right to privacy (like the 130 000 Canadians who signed Open Media’s online petition against it), but that’s not the worst of it.
Despite the public outrage, the recent report actually calls for legislation which extends beyond the scope of C-30, recommending that a positive obligation ought to be placed on telecom service providers and telecom device manufacturers to decrypt intercepted messages of its customers and to assist law enforcement in doing the same. It also recommends imposing a requirement on cell phone merchants and telecom service providers to adopt identity verification requirements for its customers. In short, it recommends a renewal of Bill C-30’s widely-despised measures as well as some new ones which even the Online Spying bill hadn’t thought to include.
Apparently Vic Toews’ shameless, accusatory promotion of the Online Spying bill and the venomous backlash it produced has not held enough sway in Ottawa to bring about an end to this kind of backwards legislation. Much of the public outcry against C-30’s provisions was aimed at Toews himself, with the #TellVicEverything Twitter campaign (in which Canadians sarcastically spammed Toews’ page with all kinds of mundane information about their daily activities), and with online hacktivist group Anonymous posting a Youtube video scolding Toews for promoting the bill and revealing the identity of the mistress with whom it alleged he had an adulterous affair. Toews became a symbol (through his own merits, to be certain) for the widely-renounced legislation and as such Canadians aimed much of their protest efforts at him personally. While this undoubtedly provided a great source of entertainment, it seems to have failed to alert Ottawa as to the real source of Canadians’ displeasure: the unfair, unconstitutional violation of our privacy.
To be fair, Canadians did engage in protests which focused on the bill itself more than Toews alone (Open Media’s online petition is perhaps the best example), yet these have evidently not carried the influence necessary to prevent recommendations for similar and even more invasive legislation from rising up in parliament, as is clear from the recent report. Canadians showed great determination and resolve in fighting Toews’ Online Spying bill, but will have to redouble those efforts and perhaps change aim slightly in order to achieve success.
Instead of targeting Toews, Canadians should consider contacting their elected member of parliament and express their disapproval of this kind of legislation. Another effective tactic could be to pressure telecom service providers, who are also potential victims of the legislation, to resist C-30-like provisions along with the rest of Canadians. In response to the recent report, a spokesperson for Bell stated:
Our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost.
In other words, Bell is concerned with the cost the legislation could have on their business, and not so much on the fact that it will require them to violate their customers’ privacy rights. Canadians may be able to find an ally in cell phone companies like Bell, but in order to ensure a reliable and useful alliance they need first to make it clear to these companies that their concerns ought not to be only for their own profits. This may be a difficult task given that cell phone companies are not really accountable to the public in the same way as politicians in a democratic state, and cell phone companies are notorious for being the subjects of harsh public criticism and doing nothing about it, but it may nonetheless be worth a shot. Regardless, it seems the fight against online spying legislation is not over, despite extensive efforts by the Canadian public, and if Canadians want to crush impending legislation the same way they crushed Vic Toews’ reputation, they will likely need to devise some new strategies.