Like most Canadian Internet geeks, over the past week or so, I have been seething over the egregious stupidity of the Conservative government’s Bill C-30 – the so-called Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.
This is legislation that would allow the RCMP, our national police force, to track the Internet activities of pretty much any Canadian, without court warrant, and without the right of that citizen to know he or she has been tracked.
That a political opportunist, like Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews, has the unprincipled audacity to say that people opposed to this legislation are “on the side of the child pornographers” sums up the intellectual and moral viciousness of the people who have drafted and proposed this legislation.
But though he has become the target of choice for abuse by those opposed to the bill, Toews is really only the poster child (if we can say that, without drawing down suspicion of a propensity for child pornography) for a larger, witless, uninformed and outdated gang in the Conservative party.
The sad thing about this outrage is that it is now so wearyingly familiar.
Anti-democratic and stupid as the proposed legislation is, it is really not that much different from the legislation proposed (but mercifully left unpassed) by the Liberal government of Paul Martin in 2005, or by the Harper minority government before the last election.
The difference is that we had minority governments in those days – ones not likely to weather the storm of controversy needed to see the proposed legislation through into law.
With a majority Conservative government now in place, that protective shield is gone.
Having had the good idea to dispense with one really bad, expensive idea – the gun registry – the Tories are now writing themselves a cheque for their own bad, expensive idea and no one can stop them this time.
That, in itself, is a reason for intense concern.
What increases my worry is that the two main functional problems with the implementation of this kind of law – that our politicians are IT-incompetent and our police just plain overall incompetent – have not changed and are not likely to change in the near future.
Remember, it was the federal government that brought you Nortel, Corel and is shortly going to bring you RIM corporate welfare.
And remember it was the RCMP that brought you the Lockerby and Robert Pickton investigations.
Do you seriously trust either of these organizations to protect you, your Internet security or your citizens’ rights?
A decade or so ago, as a manager of a local Internet service provider, I made a habit of paying regular visits to “hacker” websites – mostly feeble “kitty-hacker” wanna-be boasting sites, where recently post-pubescent males would do preening-monkey displays about how to hack into services like the one I was running.
For me, this was a “know your enemy” operation.
If the proposed Conservative legislation had been in force at that time, I could have been placed in the awkward position of having to allow the RCMP to put in place technology to track and record my own “suspicious” activities. And the RCMP, I am sure, would have concluded, with their characteristic investigatory legerdemain, that I was some kind of infiltrator/terrorist.
Knowing what link somebody clicks on does not tell you anything about the motive that person has for clicking on that link.
Nobody, obviously, wants to support the on-line rights of pedophiles or child-murdering terrorists. But it is sheer madness to think that our brain-dead bureaucrats, or incompetent police, are going to be able to responsibly monitor or evaluate our Internet activities.
On the other hand, the activities of people who have used the Internet to harass and embarrass Vic Toews personally have done nothing but play into his hands and the hands of his anti-democratic allies.
Note to geeks: Don’t tweet-harass twits or air their private dirty laundry in Internet public space. You only allow them to claim a moral high ground to which they otherwise have no claim.
I wish I could say I saw some hope in the fact that Bill C-30 is going now into further parliamentary scrutiny.
But, given that the Liberal party has a demonstrated history of being as IT-incompetent as the Conservatives and that the NDP has a long history of being IT-irrelevant, I don’t have much confidence that whatever version of the bill ultimately comes to the house and gets passed, will not be a bad one.
We may find ourselves thrown on the not-very-promising mercies of the Supreme Court of Canada to protect our personal liberties.
Maybe what we really need is a parliamentary act that disallows Parliament from passing any acts relating to information technology until it has been scientifically-proven that the people drafting or approving such legislation are not a computer-illiterate, obsolete old coots.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.