Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surfing the Net in Canada – Watch Where You Click

A proposed new law is being introduced in Canada’s House of Commons today, which would grant police the power to force your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to hand over all records of your online activities without a warrant.

Imagine having someone go through all your personal emails, chat room conversations, website histories, file transfers and surfing habits, without your knowledge, and for reasons which may or may not be justified.

The proposed law, a Bill called “An Act Regulating Telecommunications Facilities to Support Investigations,” gives Canadian law enforcement agencies unprecedented sweeping powers to dig up all this dirt, without justifying their reasons.

Simply cut off a cop on the highway, and next thing you know, they b

reak down your door because you downloaded last summer’s block buster movie off the net.

Supporters of the Bill – including police forces across the country – say situations like these aren’t likely, because they will only use these new rights to investigate criminal activates. They say the Internet has become an easy and important tool by criminals, pedophiles, terrorists, drug dealers and scam artists.

However, Canada’s Federal Privacy Commissioner and other privacy watchdogs are very worried about this proposed legislation, because it allows police to have carte blanche access to your complete online life, with nothing more than a hunch.

Currently, law enforcement agencies must obtain a warrant – by providing reasonable and probable grounds to a judge to get that warrant – just to listen in on your phone conversations, or to search your places of work or residence. They don’t presently have any rights to access your online usage from your ISP.

Police and other law enforcement agencies across Canada have been demanding this type of law for years, to help in their criminal investigations.

Granting law enforcement agencies the right to gather this information from ISPs isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but allowing them to have this information without a warrant is.

Being a police officer is a tough job, but being a cop also means having a certain element of power and responsibility.

Placing the responsibility in those that have the power is a dangerous combination – that’s why the proposed Bill is a bad Bill. It allows police to regulate themselves in terms of what prompts them to order an ISP to hand over personal online information.

You could be out at a restaurant with a group of friends, one joke taken the wrong way by a police officer in earshot, and that cop goes off and starts searching through your online life – and you may never know about this, especially if there is nothing incriminating against you.

If the police and other law enforcement agencies want to have laws allowing them to access the personal information of suspected criminals online – fine. But giving them unfettered access, based on what may just be a best-guess, is a step closer to living in a country like China, where the government regularly blocks Internet access under the guise of “protecting its citizens.”

Like when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported during last summer’s Olympic Games that some of the ceremonies broadcast “live” from China, were actually pre-recorded and edited by the Chinese government. Within hours of CBC reporting that story, the Chinese government had blocked all CBC sites within China.

It would take a long time, and many more similar Bills proposed and passed in Canada, before such a controlled online world were to happen. But this Bill is the first step towards just that.

Is that the type of society we want here in Canada?
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