Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lawful access looms closer

Conservative plans for lawful access online surveillance legislation get some welcome attention in a Lawrence Martin column today:
On the question of surveillance and reduced civil liberties, the latest Ottawa measure is what is termed “lawful access” legislation. This will compel Internet service providers to disclose customer information to authorities without a court order. In other words – blunter words – law enforcement agencies will have a freer hand in spying on the private lives of Canadians.

When he was public safety minister, Stockwell Day, now retired from politics, was opposed to going this route. When the question of handing police these powers arose, he stated that “we are not in any way, shape or form wanting extra powers for police to pursue [information online] without warrants.”

While having to get a court order might make some police investigations more difficult, Mr. Day correctly held to the view that the citizen’s right to privacy was paramount. That all changed, and now the expansion of intrusive state power is set for passage as part of the Conservatives’ omnibus law and order legislation.

Mr. Day was asked what happened? “I won’t back away from what I said, nor would I want to,” he replied in an e-mail message. He was careful not to slag his Conservative brethren, saying that critics should exercise a modicum of restraint until all the details of the government’s plans are known.

The country’s privacy commissioners – federal and provincial – are lining up against the legislation, as are citizens’ groups. But lumping the lawful access measures in the omnibus crime package will help limit debate and public rancour.
That's interesting that Day is still pro-warrant and that he's willing to say so. While he's not on the scene anymore as a federal cabinet minister, he is a high profile voice within Conservative circles that may be helpful in persuading the government to listen to opposing viewpoints on this highly controversial intrusion into Canadians' internet privacy. Keeping the warrant requirement is key.

The potential for abuse is ripe with this legislation and the case has never been made by the government that it is a necessity to do away with the warrant requirement. Indeed, they have never really allowed for any credible amount of scrutiny of this legislation at all. An omnibus bill being jammed through Parliament with such ominous privacy implications just might stir Canadians. We like our internets and it's one of those issues that just might hit home as it becomes a looming reality.

See also: Harper's aggressive internet surveillance push