Trading bullets for bits, the Conservative government is this week replacing the infamously invasive and expensive long gun registry with a disturbing piece of pricey government paranoia, the Internet registry.
In expressing the delusional underpinnings of his government’s new Internet spying bill, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews decreed that folks who don’t support his proposed law are in league with child pornographers.
He delivered that illogical edict right about the time he solicited NDP support to scrap the long gun registry by saying, “It does nothing to help put an end to gun crimes nor has it saved one Canadian life.”
(In truth, there’s been a 41 per cent reduction in homicides by long guns since the registry was introduced. But it’s well known Conservatives don’t deal in facts, so we’ll ignore that for now.)
Toew’s statement is actually hilarious because, no doubt, 10 years and a few billion tax dollars from now, some NDP minister is going to say the exact same thing about his Internet registry.
Back in the day, Chretien and his cronies promoted the long gun registry as a way to protect Canadians from each other.
Foreshadowing Minister Toew’s lunatic claims, Liberal justice minister Alan Rock promised us that a long gun registry would prevent, “Canada’s streets from deteriorating into American-style war zones where guns are the norm rather than the exception.”
The leap of logic was barely tenable, but that didn’t really matter. In classic Canadian political style, PM Chretien whipped his MPs to vote the registry into reality, constituent interests be damned.
And here we are, 16 years and a few billion tax dollars later, with the new Conservative government unceremoniously killing the thing.
The Conservatives claim it’s expensive, inefficient, ineffectual, and needlessly invades the privacy of honest Canadians.
(They also remain blissfully ignorant of law enforcement’s endorsement of the registry. Officers refer to it 17,000 times a day in the line of duty. But, whatever, right?)
So the government is replacing the long gun registry with something that will cost even more money, be less effective, and invade the privacy of a far greater number of honest Canadians: a law that will enable government to monitor and record everything we do online.
It’s a bill that will require mobile, satellite, and terrestrial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose sensitive personal and technical information about us to government and law enforcement without any warrant or notification.
Furthermore, ISPs have to install new technologies so government and law enforcement can watch everything we do online in real time.
Should law enforcement ever decide to investigate you, your ISP would have to secretly assist them.
But, wait. The government wants to avoid another multi-million dollar bill like the one for the long gun registry.
So instead, Canadian Internet users will be directly subsidizing all the new spy technologies that ISPs will have to install on behalf of the government.
From a privacy invasion perspective, the long gun registry pales in comparison to the Internet registry.
Under the long gun registry, all you had to do was register your gun’s serial number and address.
Terms under something like the Internet registry would have been far more onerous.
Police would have been able to enter your house without a warrant to locate and register your gun.
Forensic information about your rifle would have been recorded along with its serial number, so that every round fired could be linked back to your gun.
A location-tracking device would have been attached to your gun.
All ammunition you purchased for your firearm would have been recorded and reported to the government.
If you went to the shooting range for some target practice, the proprietor would have been required to collect all of your spent ammunition, analyze it for forensics, store it, and report it to law enforcement.
In short, every detail of your gun’s location and use would have been tracked, recorded, and stored for review by government and law enforcement.
Every privacy commissioner in Canada opposes the Conservative Internet spying bill on grounds that it’s overly invasive and unnecessary.
Law enforcement already has adequate access under existing laws to our online activities. They are, after all, regularly busting up the kiddie porn rings Minister Toew alluded to with vim and vigour.
And there is absolutely no evidence to support that law enforcement needs the additional powers that the bill would provide.
In fact, police representatives and government officials alike are scrambling to substantiate their need for these excessive privacy-invading powers.
The only real qualification that the Conservatives seem to be able to muster is the schoolyard-grade, “All the other cool countries have laws like this.”
Never mind that the only thing those other countries have managed to accomplish with their laws is to invade innocent citizens’ privacy.
I’ve been referring to the government’s new bill as an Internet registry. That’s not a technically accurate representation.
Once the law is in effect, however, there’s very little to stop law enforcement and government from leveraging its provisions to build a comprehensive directory of every Canadian Internet user.
The long gun registry managed to track 7.3 million firearms licensed to just under two million Canadians.
That’s nothing compared to what the Internet registry might accomplish.
Over 26 million people in Canada use the Internet on PCs. Four million more use the Internet regularly on mobile devices.
Our use of and access to the Internet describes every aspect of our lives, from the explicitly personal to the publicly mundane.
No wonder the Conservatives are ditching the long gun registry: two million peoples’ guns for 30 million peoples’ entire lives is an awesome trade.
So what can you do to stop the Internet registry?
Are you crazy? Nothing!
In classic Canadian political style PM Harper will whip his MPs to vote it into law, constituent interests be damned.
So just keep your mouth shut. You shouldn’t even be talking about opposing it.
If you do, it just proves you’re a child pornographer.
And then you’ll be at the top of the government’s list for real-time Internet monitoring.
Andrew Robulack is a writer and consultant specializing in technology and the Internet.