Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Wiretapping Coming to Canada? Another Fine Mess...

Yesterday, the Globe & Mail ran a front page story about the federal government pushing for telcos to bring wiretap capabilities to all forms of networked communications, whether it be voice, Internet or email. Whoa! This is so.... un-Canadian. This is the land of legalized pot and gay marriage - huh?

In spirit, sure, I can see wanting something comparable to CALEA in this post-9/11 era. After all, Canada has been accused - rightly or wrongly - of being a safe haven for terrorists, among other things. And we're one of the few Western countries not yet touched by any ugly terrorist incidents, so Ottawa wants to be proactive. OK - better safe than sorry - now THAT'S Canadian.

The fact that this made front page news should say a lot about how extreme this notion is. Looks like the feds really want to make a statement here, and go for everything. Looks draconian to me, and I suspect their motives have more to do with desperation in an election year (where the Liberals chances of re-election are not great) than serving the public good.

As the article points out, Canada certainly lags other countries in terms of wiretap capability, but the blanket coverage proposed is a real incursion on privacy, bordering on Big Brother. It's not surprising, then that this will become hotly debated.

One of the nice things about the Globe's online versions of their articles is the reader comments that follow it. One of them correctly noted that applications like Skype will be very difficult - if not impossible - to monitor, and there are so many ways to work around wiretap with today's mushrooming communications technologies. They'd have to invest an awful lot to come up with leading edge solutions to really cover all the angles, and at that point, I can't imagine how you'd justify the expense. Are we in that much danger???

What I find most interesting is the government's out-of-the-blue strong position on this issue - trying to look like they're embracing new technology and taking a leading edge approach to the situation. It's so contrary to their views on other telecom issues, which are doing nothing to make Canada look world class, namely VoIP regulation, lack of wireless number portability, and waffling over satellite radio. To me, the brashness of their thinking on wiretap just adds to the list - another fine mess they've gotten us into...


ipcom said...

Posted by: Rob Hyndman

It's not out of the blue, Jon - the Government put the "lawful access" issue on the agenda in 2002, consultations were held that year with over 300 submissions received, over the following two years the Government worked on the file, last Fall it announced that draft legislation would be coming, this year it held further consultation on the revised proposals and a few times this year it has announced that legislation would be coming in the Fall.

I suspect that the Globe article - with its slightly hysterical tone - was strongly influenced by the Canadian telecomm industry - who are no doubt trying to ramp up public opinion to resist the expense, which will, it seems, be considerable.

I'm not trying to minimize the signficance of the legislation. There are hard questions coming, and to the average Canadian - who has no doubt been looking south of the border wondering whether the steady increase in fear and concern over security is necessary - it's going to be difficult to sell, at least without clear answers to important questions. Michael Geist covered some of these in an article in the Toronto Star (also posted on his blog) recently.



1. Are all these new powers necessary?

2. Do the new powers contain sufficient judicial oversight?

3. Are the lawful access provisions constitutional?

4. Is lawful access strictly designed to address the threat of terrorism?

5. Will lawful access actually prove successful in battling Canadian terror?

The telecomms no doubt have a few they want answered as well.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic has a good info page on all of this:

ipcom said...

Posted by: Home Based Business

Just wanted you to know this was a great article that came in helpful in an argument about were exactly is the Canadian gov going with this...

ipcom said...

Posted by: Jon Arnold

Hi JP - thanks for picking this up,and glad you found this to be helpful.