Canadian politicians are scurrying for cover after a public outcry over a proposed bill that would force internet service providers to monitor users and hand over their details to the police without a warrant.
The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, formerly called the Lawful Access Act, would require ISPs to install monitoring equipment giving the police and other government authorities access to internet user’s online history and communications, as well as their physical and email addresses, IP information, and other identifiers.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews introduced the bill to parliament and faced immediate criticism, not least for telling one political opponent of the bill that he "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."
His remarks, and the Conservative government’s intransigence over the issue, led to accusations that Toews was hiding behind the abuse of children to justify a bill that is massively unpopular. The last-minute name change was cited as an example of the duplicitous nature of the bill.
“At 10 am yesterday, the name of the bill he brought in was called 'lawful access'. By 11 am, he was being hammered in the media," said New Democratic Party spokesman Charlie Angus. "Therefore, by 11:17 am, he changed the name of the bill to 'protecting children from Internet predators'. It is about using child victims as political cover so the minister can treat average Canadians like criminals.”
Angus pointed out that the Conservative government had just introduced a law destroying Canada’s gun registration system, largely on privacy grounds, and yet was now introducing a radical snooping bill a day later.
The comments by Toews also rebounded on him personally when an anonymous Twitter user set up @vikileaks30, which has been publishing details of Toews private life, including details of his expenses claims and marriage history. It now has more than five times the followers as Toews’ own account.
The local technology industry is also less than impressed with the bill. A spokesman for the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association told The Register that the industry already complied with police requests for information when accompanied by a warrant, and that its members were also concerned about the level of costs they would be forced to bear.
“Our issues are the costs,” he said. “All the technology that needs to be installed is going to cost millions, and there may be more advanced systems that have to be installed in the future. The industry has always complied with law of the land and we would have to comply.”
Even the Conservative Party’s own MPs are now having second thoughts about the bill, which polls show is opposed by a significant majority of Canadian citizens. New Brunswick Conservative MP John Williamson told the National Post that a rethink was needed.
“I have concerns about the way the bill is drafted,” he said. “It’s too intrusive as it currently stands and does need to be looked at. There’s a lot of concern, I think, across the country. It’ll go to committee and we haven’t had a frank discussion on it yet in caucus, so that will come.”
The government has signaled it is willing to consider amendments, such as allowing ISPs 18 months to install surveillance equipment instead of just 12, reducing the amount of personal information that the police can access, and promising a review of the legislation in five years’ time. ®