Bill C-30: The End of Online Privacy?

15 Jul

One of my biggest fears about computers and the Internet is the possibility of people getting my personal information and invading my privacy. Usually, people’s concerns about online privacy revolve around social media and hackers. What if I were to tell you that there might soon be a new threat to your online privacy? And it’s not hackers – at least not in the traditional sense. What if I were to tell you that this new threat consists of people we’ve learned to trust with our safety? Who am I referring to? The police.

Canadians have Bill C-30 (formerly Bill C-51) to thank, the online surveillance bill that was first tabled in February 2012. So far it has passed the first reading, but has been put on hold because of the backlash it has received from both the public and politicians. However, the bill isn’t permanently gone and will likely be back for further reviews in the fall.

So what exactly is Bill C-30? And why has it caused so much controversy? Keep reading and find out.

Bill C-30:

More affectionately known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, Bill C-30 was created by Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister. As you can guess from its title, the purpose of the bill is to protect children from online predators. The bill proposes to accomplish this by giving the police more power in getting information about Internet users and monitoring their online activity.

At first glance, this sounds like a great idea. If we look at exactly what powers the bill gives police, however, we quickly realize that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s a breakdown of what Bill C-30 entails:

  • Police could get a person’s name, address, phone number, email address, IP address, and service provider from their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or telephone provider without a warrant
  • Police could get a warrant to track the person’s online activity
  • ISPs and telephone providers would have to create a “back door” in the system that would allow police to monitor users’ online activity directly
  • Police would be able to make copies of any information/data they acquire
  • Providers and websites would have to keep users’ information for 90 days
  • Providers would have to purchase the equipment that would allow police to monitor online activity within 18 months

So Long Privacy:

“He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” That is what Vic Toews said in response to one MP that questioned Bill C-30. I guess that means I also support child pornographers, because I most certainly am opposed to this bill, as are many others. But why are people so opposed to this bill in the first place?

I have come across dozens of articles written by journalists, bloggers, and politicians themselves who are all saying the same thing: that Bill C-30 is an intrusion of Canadians’ privacy by allowing police to essentially spy on people.

By allowing police to collect personal information about users, the police would be able to find out that person’s identity. Also, with police knowing your IP address, you can say goodbye to anonymous browsing, because they could use it to trace all your activity back to you. They would also be able to find out who your friends and relatives are, who could also be tracked because of their association with you. How can this be justified? Most likely, the friends and relatives of a child pornographer wouldn’t be aware of this fact, as it’s not something people generally advertise. In that case, how could invading their privacy be of any use to the police? And how would it be allowed in the first place if they themselves hadn’t done anything wrong? On that note, however, you might want to choose your friends carefully.

Bill C-30 would also allow police to look through and track a person’s cell phone messages, emails, and social media accounts. As a result, complete strangers looking for something incriminating could read what are supposed to be private messages. From now on, you might want to be careful what messages you send people; you never know who’s reading it.

No Warrant:

Another concern is that the police won’t even need a warrant to get all of this information. That means that you don’t even have to commit a crime for the police to track you.

By not requiring a warrant, the police effectively have the power to get information about anyone they want without actually having a valid reason to do so, like in the case of the friends/relatives of people they’re monitoring. This is a problem because it means that perfectly innocent people could have their online privacy violated.

In that case, what’s stopping the police from getting your or my personal information and tracking our online activity? I certainly don’t think I’ve said anything in my personal messages that would be a cause for concern, but the thought that police could be tracking them anyways is unnerving.

Open Media is so opposed to the bill for all of these reasons that they created an online petition called Stop Online Spying in an attempt to stop the bill from being passed. They even compiled a list of MPs who are also opposed to this invasion of privacy and created a video that went viral:

Conclusion:

In my opinion, the reasoning behind the bill is a good one. However, the government needs to go about implementing it in a different way. Instead of allowing the police to get information about whomever they please, they should be required to have a valid reason for doing so and therefore require a warrant. That way, only the privacy of people actually suspected of wrongdoing would have their privacy violated, and justifiably so, rather than innocent people as well.

Only time will tell whether this bill is passed or not and whether Canadians’ online privacy will be jeopardized. In the meantime, however, you might want to delete some of your messages.

This video summarizes the points made in this blog:

Digital Locks: What They Are and Why You Should Care about Them

23 Jun

By now you’ve probably heard of the Copyright Modernization Act, better known as Bill C-11, Canada’s new copyright bill that was first proposed in September 2011 and is currently in the final stages of being reviewed. The bill was created to update the Copyright Act in order to adapt it to modern technology. For the most part, the bill isn’t all that bad. There is one part of the bill, however, that has caused a lot of controversy: the digital locks provision.

Before doing research on this subject, I had no idea what digital locks were. Because of the backlash this provision has caused, I wanted to find out exactly what digital locks are, what the provision says about them, and what that would mean for Canadians.

Digital Locks: What Are They?

Digital locks are a type of digital rights management (DRM) used by copyright owners to restrict the ways that people can use the content of products they purchase, such as DVDs, CDs, video games, and ebooks.

The goal of digital locks is to prevent people from pirating the product by limiting their access to the content of the product and making it so that they can’t read the content on their own. There are different methods that copyright owners use to achieve this. One method that is common is encryption, whereby the content is turned into a code that can only be deciphered by machines that are able to unlock it, such as DVD players.

The main concern of those that utilize digital locks is that if people have unrestricted access to the content, then they can make copies of the material and then distribute those copies to others. This is a problem because the copyright owner loses profits when people acquire pirated copies of the product instead of purchasing a legitimate copy.

Despite these measures, people have been successful in breaking digital locks, thus allowing them to use the content as they please. This inspired the digital locks provision of Bill C-11 that specifically targets the breaking of digital locks.

The Digital Locks Provision:

Bill C-11 is a long and complicated bill, with the digital locks provision not being any different. In a nutshell, if Bill C-11 were passed, breaking digital locks would be illegal.

Up to this point, breaking digital locks has been legal in Canada. However, these digital lock provisions would change that. This provision would allow copyright owners to take legal action when a person breaks a digital lock because of the potential for them to copy and distribute the material, even if they haven’t actually done so.

However, Bill C-11 would not make copyright owners obligated to use digital locks on their products. It is the copyright owner’s choice to use a digital lock on their product, just like it is our choice of whether or not to purchase that product.

How Does that Affect Canadians?

One of the biggest problems with the digital locks provision is that it actually violates other rights that are established by Bill C-11. Earlier in the bill, Canadians are given free dealing rights, which allow people to make copies of legally acquired products for their own personal use as long as they do not illegally distribute the copies. With the digital locks provision, however, this right is removed in the case that the content is protected with a digital lock; “What the bill gives with one hand, it taketh away with the other”. This means that if a product you purchase contains a digital lock, you will not be allowed to break the lock and make a copy of it for your own private use.

To put this into perspective, some things Canadians would not be allowed to do if a digital lock was used include:

  • Break the digital lock
  • Make a backup copy of a DVD on their computer, iPad, etc.
  • Upload the content of a CD onto their computer or iPod
  • Copy a CD or DVD onto a blank disk
  • Make a backup copy of an ebook on another device
  • Make a backup copy of a video game
  • Record and make a copy of television shows, including both live and on-demand airings
  • Copy online textbooks or other material to another device for educational purposes

If you were caught doing any of these things, you would be fined anywhere from $100 to $5000.

In addressing the issue the provision, Charlie Angus, the NDP’s critic on digital issues, makes a good point: by implementing these digital lock provisions, the government is essentially favouring the copyright owners over the public’s right to use their possessions.

My question is this: Why should people who legitimately acquire a product not be allowed to make a copy of it for their own use? Why should we not be allowed to put music on our iPod or watch a movie on our computer? The majority of Canadians would not illegally distribute a product, so why should they be punished for the actions of the few that would?

Throughout the process of Bill C-11 being reviewed, the government has failed to make any changes to the digital locks provision. As it is in the final stages of being reviewed, these are questions we might continue to ask ourselves for quite some time.

This video from CTV News takes a look at this issue and how it affects DVD owners.

Facebook Addicts Anonymous: A Self-Help Guide to Beating Your Addiction

1 Jun

We all have those “friends,” the ones that post their every thought and every move on Facebook. Their status updates take over your News Feed and you can’t help but shake your head at their obvious obsession with the social media website. You look at the clock and realize that you have been on Facebook for over an hour. You then go onto your own profile, and realize that you are also guilty of documenting your life on the website.

Now, you’re probably expecting me to say that I was describing myself just now. However, my own Facebook use has declined due to a lack of spare time and, honestly, just sheer annoyance with the “friends” I described above. However, when I do decide to log on, I can’t help but notice how much time some people spend on the social media giant.

To what extent is Facebook taking over people’s lives? How can you tell if you’re a “Facebook Addict”? How can you get over your addiction? Keep reading and find out.

Facebook: The Facts

With over 500,000,000 members around the world, Facebook has become a global phenomenon. To put that into perspective, if Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in terms of population. If that fact doesn’t shock you, then maybe some of these ones will:

  • Facebook is the website with the second highest traffic, after Google
  • On average, a user spends 8 hours on Facebook each month, compared to 2 hours on Google
  • On average, users create 90 pieces of content per month
  • 48% of users aged 18 to 34 check Facebook right after waking up
  • 61% of users under 25, and 55% of those over 25 check Facebook at least once per day

A study by Retrevo found that 27% of users under 25 and 20% of those over 25 sometimes check Facebook when they wake up during the night. Also, 16% of users said that they get the news from the website.

Still not convinced that people are obsessed with the website? Another study of British citizens found that 1 in 5 prefer to speak with people online, rather than in person or over the telephone.

Are You An Addict?

While it seems so farfetched that someone could actually become addicted to a website, being a psychology student makes me realize that we can become addicted to pretty much anything if we spend excessive amounts of time with it. As of yet, an addiction to Facebook hasn’t officially been recognized as a clinical disorder, although an obsession with it is common.

Keeping this in mind, it’s important that people be able to recognize when their love of Facebook has become problematic. According to CNN, the signs of Facebook addiction include:

  • Lack of sleep because of Facebook
  • Spending more than 1 hour per day on Facebook
  • Becoming “obsessed with old loves”
  • Your work suffers
  • You dread getting off Facebook 

All of these signs are pretty self-explanatory in terms of why they would be a problem. The Daily Mind provides some more signs, just in case you need more evidence to convince you that you might have a problem:

  • You think about Facebook, even when you’re not on it
  • You’re late for things because of Facebook
  • Other people tell you that you’re spending too much time on it
  • You check Facebook from your mobile device
  • Facebook causes you stress

Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway came up with a set of six questions that allow you to determine for yourself if you are a Facebook “addict”. I decided to take the test and see where I stand. I scored 7 out of 30, almost the lowest score you can get. Although that’s not surprising, seeing as I don’t spend much time on the website anymore. I do, however, have many “friends” that would probably score much higher than a 7. What was your score?

What’s the Big Deal?

Maybe by now you realize that you might be addicted to your favourite website. But what’s the big deal anyways? The same study by the University of Bergen found that women, young people, and those who are anxious and insecure are at higher risk of becoming addicted to Facebook. But that doesn’t mean all you male, older, and confident users can’t have a problem too. One of my most obsessed “friends” is an older, male family member, who is definitely confident. So keep reading.

An obvious consequence is that these people are spending more time on their computer, and less time interacting with people in person. While this is a consequence in and of itself, one study found that because of this, young people are actually feeling lonely. The study even found that 60% of the respondents had difficulty forming friendships in real life. In addressing this issue, Julie Peasgood, a relationship expert, brought up a good point: “You can’t hug a Facebook friend.”

Another consequence affects those Facebook users that are in college or university. A study found that they “spend less time studying and have lower grades,” although a causal link wasn’t established.

Recovery Process:

If you’ve come to diagnose yourself as a Facebook “addict,” it’s time to get you some help. The first step to recovery, like with any addiction, is admitting that you have a problem. Repeat after me: “My name is __________, and I’m addicted to Facebook”. Now that that’s settled, what can you do to get over your obsession, without having to seek professional help? The Daily Mind provides some more tips:

  • Keep a log of the time you spend on Facebook – it shows you the extent of your problem
  • Set a time limit for your visits to the website – you will still get your fix, but you won’t go overboard
  • Disable email notifications – it gets rid of the constant reminder
  • Turn off your computer – that way you can spend time doing something else
  • Think of the things you used to do before your “addiction” started – you can “reconnect” with your old life
  • Block Facebook – that way, you literally can’t go on it

Well, there you have it – you’re cured! Now you can spend your time doing something really productive – like all that work you were putting off. Maybe I should post a link to this blog on my own Facebook. I’m sure it would prove useful to at least one of my “friends.”

Below is a video segment from ABC News that reiterates many of the concerns and tips stated in this blog.