Towards the Abolition of Privacy in Canada

I did this translation for my buddy Anarcat – to see the French original, go to his blog.

The conservative government, supported by the liberal "opposition", is presently working hard to establish a legal basis for greatly expanded telephone and electronic surveillance. In short, you can be spied on by your municipal, provincial and federal police without a warrant or any kind of warning. As a systems administrator for Koumbit.org I am tasked with ensuring the security and confidentitality of your data, and am deeply troubled by this possibility. Canada, recognised internationally as a beacon of freedom on the internet, would align itself with the current international trends, as represented by the United States, China, and the European Union.

A Global Project of Arbitrary Surveillance

The Canadian plan is to force internet service providers (ISPs such as Koumbit, Bell Canada, Videotron and Google) to spy on you without warning you or obtaining a warrant. These ISPs will be forced to keep logs of your activities, and supply them to any police officer or other "authorized person", on demand. This information includes your:

Again, all this information would be provided to an authorised person without their ever having obtained a warrant from a judge. With their badge number and organisational affiliation, a cop can freely access all this information. The law is phrased in such a way that the ultimate authority to determine the legitimacy of such a request belongs to the "authorized person" making the request. The networks operators are simple intermediaries to the process of accessing your personal information.

Not only will ISPs need to conserve their logs, they will also need to conserve the content of communications passing over their network (Bill C47, article 6), which would impose an enormous additional cost to already fragile networks. Unlike the logs, the disclosure of this information would require a warrant, but in either case the ISP can be subject to a gag-order that would prevent it from informing you that your private information has been disclosed to the government.

The law provides for payment for these new espionnage services provided by ISPs. This will insure the complicity of the larger networks for whom providing such services would otherwise impose important new costs that they could not easily extort from their subscribers. In France and the UK such laws have been opposed by the ISPs on the grounds of their cost. This provision in the proposed Canadian law effectively undermines this basis for resistance.

Finally, the law indicates that encrypted communications (for instance, with your bank) must be conserved unencrypted by your ISP. This could make certain communications encryption services, such as Hushmail, inoperable, by forcing these services to conserve and share readable versions of the messages with the authorities (Bill C47, article 3.6). Presently, a judge can already order you to reveal your password in order to access your confidential information (as has been the case since 1993).

As a network operator, becoming a government spy in the context of my work for a private organisation goes against my code of ethics. This puts into question my work, which consists of enabling people to communicate and publish their ideas, and not imposing global state surveillance. Koumbit has already dealt with the authorities in similar circumstances, and we collaborated to the extent provided by the law. These new laws, as written, would in no way have aided that investigation; they simply allow an abusive and unnecessary level of surveillance.

The Political Excuse

The cynical justification of this intrusion on our privacy is to enforce copyright and protect children from pedophilia. "We must protect our children from being lured over the internet", according to the conservatives, as if the internet was intrinsically a menace to the physical and psychological health of children. Television already constantly assaults us with scenes of unbridled violence and images of an abusive juvenile sexuality, and existing laws suffice to allow the police to do their work freely, but nonetheless the internet as a whole and its users are the target of increased control and surveillance. The objectives of these laws are much more pernicious and dishonest than they appear to be in the offical discourse, and MPs are collaborating in ignorance of the technical issues, or, if they understand them, maliciously.

The first objective is to allow the film and music industry lobby (meaning the CRIA, namely the Canadian branches of Warner Music, Sony BMG Music, EMI Music, and Universal Music)) to continue to make record profits while pursueing users who are presently freely and legally downloading music and television online. We have been talking for years about how to adjust copyright to this reality and the response is toadying up to international lobbies.

The second objective is to control the population and easily identify political agitators, wherever they are and whatever they are saying. Presently to do this, you need to get a judges approval and wade through some boring legal procedures. These procedures are fundamental protections in a state that respects human rights, and have worked well in the past. The state now wants direct access to this information without having to undertake these procedures and with the least possible constraints. This threatens radical political discourse or anyone who desires their privacy and wishes to preserve the confidentiality of their personal information. This constitutes a clear menace to social movements and to the security of the remnants of our democracy and must be fought at all levels.

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La version originale de cet article, en fran├žais, se trouve sur le blogue d’Anarcat.