Bill C30–creating a surveilance society?

Let’s say you were constantly interfering with my ability to do whatever it was I wanted to do. Furthermore, let’s NOT assume that what I wanted to do was in anyone’s best interests but mine. In other words let’s say I was a self-interested bas***d bent on achieving personal goals without regard for how this impacted others. Finally let’s say I had access to a drug that was simple to distribute and, once administered, would render you docile, silent and, therefore, neutralized as a threat.

Now, the only problem would be getting you to take it. I lack the power to force it on you—there are too many of you. No, I would have to take a different approach. Recall the Tom Sawyer story, “Whitewashing the Fence?” In the end, by convincing his friends it was good for them, I quote, “He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while – plenty of company – and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash, he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.”

So too with the drug; all I would have to do is convince you that taking it would be in your best interests, not mine. In so doing, not only would you take it willingly but also you would probably pay for it yourself leaving me alone to do as Tom Sawyer did.

This not about drugs though. It’s about something else.

Bill C-30 is back and it looks bigger than ever. Branded by some the ‘warrantless surveillance bill’ it has been cleverly branded by the current administration as the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.” (Funny—other than in the title, children are not otherwise mentioned.) In essence the act would make it mandatory for Internet Service Providers to build in the ability for authorities to monitor all Internet related activity.

Now that, by itself, does not sound like a bad thing at all. Frankly I have no real difficulty with that part. After all law enforcement does have the ability to ticket speeders on the highway, to stop and examine suspected impaired drivers and even to search houses and businesses if they have reason to suspect criminal activity. This new act therefore seems to do exactly the same on the Internet.

So what’s my problem?

Go back to the items I listed above—stopping speeders and impaired drivers, searching homes; that stuff. When doing those activities the authorities cannot just go ahead and act on hunches. That battle was fought and won long ago in this country when people realized that without gatekeepers in the system law enforcement officers would be free to act outside the laws they were supposed to uphold. As a people we therefore devised a procedural system to ensure the laws were upheld in a way that prevented the authorities from abusing their power. A vital part of our government—the judiciary, the third part we often forget about—was created to be that gatekeeper. Nobody says that part is perfect; sometimes procedure gets in the way and makes the administration of justice much less expedient. Sadly, even, sometimes it lets the bad guys get away—in the short term.

But look at the alternative. Consider the acts of the authorities in many other countries. In far too many parts of the world a simple suspicion of wrongdoing or, more importantly, the simple fact that you got on the wrong side of someone in power means that you can be subject to limitless state-sanctioned violence carried out by the state-controlled police. For those people, when the boots kick out the front door and people are carried away they know there are no limits on what is likely to happen to them.

So back to C-30. The paragraph above describes pretty much what that bill is. Here is my problem with it: there’s no gatekeeper. Physical search and seizure requires the assent of a judge—a warrant. It does not matter how much a police officer dislikes a private citizen, the officer cannot inflict violence, in the form of a search, on that person until a judge can be convinced that the action is within the law and is necessary.

Bill C-30 does not have that restriction. If someone in authority wants to access your Internet activity, they do not have to go to a judge to get that ability. They just contact the ISP and get it. While it could potentially speed up and investigation by removing the hour or so required to go after the warrant It is truly doubtful whether that hour will make much of a difference on a case that will require months anyway. But look at the potential it has for abuse. Peaceful protest can be intercepted giving those in authority with ill intent ample opportunity to plant agents provocateur in the group thus making peaceful protests ugly by design. Your own personal communication between family and friends become objects of scrutiny by those whose business it is not. Someone in authority that holds a grudge against you is left free to monitor what you do and say until they finally ‘get something’ they can use against you. Those seeking public office could be spied on by those already there. The list goes on and on.

Worse yet—and mark my words on this—the ensuing ‘surveillance society’ would appeal most to those creepy types it is supposed to neutralize. Think about it. In fairly short order those that we think this act is about—pedophiles and such—would soon be the ones behind the cameras, not the ones in front of it.

Frankly this gives me the chills. This proposed act scares me like nothing else.

Please do not get me wrong. Regarding the ‘stated’ intent of the bill: I am in no way in favour of the depraved kind of conduct that ‘pedophiles’ carry out. In fact I am nothing but sickened by the mere thoughts of not only what’s been done but moreso what can be done courtesy of the tremendous communicative powers the Internet has brought us. It’s just that I see a whole lot more going on here.

First, by placing ‘Big Brother’ types of restrictions and surveillance on Internet traffic not only are you limiting private individuals’ ability to spread messages deemed ‘dangerous’ by the authorities but you are also placing the same limits on individuals’ ability to spread the truth as well.

Second, in the same way, you are increasing the authorities’ ability to dominate the media with its message and are left with no other recourse but to accept the state-sanctioned messages as the only information available. Stalinist Russia employed this tactic effectively for decades through its state owned agency TASS. Need I go on? Well, okay, just in case here it is: Governments are not necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’; they are whatever they are but we can be assured that if there are no direct means to watch and impact government practice and policy you can be assured that, in time, its priorities will shift away from the needs of the people it is supposed to serve and, instead, begin to serve only those in power as they pursue their own—as opposed to the peoples’—needs.

So here’s my point in summary: Bill C-30 is a double-crossing piece of work that will effectively remove our ability to express our personal opinions and beliefs in order to have them either agreed with or struck down—in a way that everyone can follow. Furthermore, in the name of lessening the spread of conduct and values that are truly evil it will likely serve to entrench not only the ones it targets but also ones that affect all aspects of society. This will inevitably lead to a profound loss of freedom in a way that will negatively affect our personal, public, professional and economic futures. This will drive communication—moral, amoral and immoral—underground. This is not the right approach for a contemporary advanced society.

For your own sake—don’t accept the pill that if offered. It will only make us all sicker.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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