From time to time, I write about things that are happening here in Canada. I call this series,"Notes from the North". I hope you will enjoy reading about events here in my part of the world.
While we do not, as yet, have a sweater-vest wearing, bible-thumping, anti-contraception wannabe-leader, we do have Vic Toews ( pronounced Taves ).
Mr. Toews is the Minister of Public Safety and he takes his title very seriously. He is about to introduce Bill C30 into parliament. This bill would give authorities unprecedented new powers to monitor the online and phone habits of Canadians. The “lawful access” legislation, will require Internet service providers to provide name, address, phone number, email address, and ISP addresses to authorities on request without the need for a warrant. Critics are calling it “online spying” as it may also require ISPs and phone companies to install equipment for real-time surveillance and create new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data.
There has been wide-spread criticism of the bill and Mr. Toews responded by taking a page from George Bush's playbook. "You are either with us, or with the child pornographers" he said when criticized by the opposition. He is now apologizing for that comment which he says he made in the heat of parliamentary debate.
Opponents of the bill responded with "Vicileaks", a group dedicated to publishing details of Vic Toews' messy divorce. The Conservatives accused the NDP of releasing this info but the "Dippers" responded by saying that they were not interested in his personal life and that there was enough on the public record to attack.
Next came "Tell Vic Everything". Users of Twitter decided that since Toews seems to want to know everything they are doing, they would save him the trouble of snooping on them and just tell him.His Twitter account was flooded with comments like:
"I had a ham sandwich for lunch"
"I don't like you"
"I lost an email from my work account yesterday. Can I get your copy?"
"I used soy milk in my cereal today. Still on the fence about it,"
"Darth is Luke's father"
Mr. Toews took all this in good stride, saying he found some of the tweets quite humourous. Unfortunately, he reports having received personal threats which are being investigated.
After all this I am waiting for the inevitable Youtube video,"Leave Vic Toews Alooooone!"
Now February 28 has been designated "Toewsday", a day to let the minister know what we think about all of this.
So what do I think about it?
My first response was that if it would help police to catch child pornographers, that it would be OK with me. But then I started thinking about what could happen if police officers could get access to Canadians' internet and phone accounts without a warrant. Could they snoop on ex-spouses, neighbours, that guy who is dating their sister? While most police officers are decent, honest folks, there might be some who would abuse this power. Having to get a warrant would prevent this from happening.
Recent developments suggest that Toews didn't fully realize what was in his bill and was surprised to learn that it provides for exceptional circumstances under which any police officer can request customer information from a telecommunications service provider. Mr. Toews said his understanding of the bill is that police can only request such information when they are conducting a specific criminal investigation.
Now I don't know about you, but if I were going to try to pass a new law, I think I would make sure to know what was in that law and the ramifications of it before I made it public. But maybe I am just picky.
Anyway, it looks like the bill will be re-examined before being presented to correct any loopholes which might lead to abuse, and hopefully the new bill will quell my and others fears of un-warranted snooping.
And so, gentle readers, both Canadian and American, I would like to know how you feel about all of this. What would you tell Vic Toews tomorrow?