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:

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