Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reining in political troublemakers

A short while back, on behalf of BC bloggers, I strutted about influence:
"Everyone knows that the mainstream media, with near unanimity, has supported Gordon Campbell and his government through thick and thin, or recently, through thin and thinner. It must be discouraging to newspaper editorial writers, columnists, talk show hosts, etc. that, despite their constant singing of praises for their political hero, the great unwashed of the province wasn't buying."
I should not have made the statement. At best, it was way premature; at worst, completely naive. Of course, as soon as important people recognize threats to maintenance of the favored order, they go behind closed doors and start working on solutions. Reining in political troublemakers has always been a goal of the ruling class.

Michael Geist, University of Ottawa professor and one of Canada's foremost experts on technology law, provides the detail at Lawful Access Bills Would Reshape Internet in Canada .

The Harper Government intends that:
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) must disclose complete customer information and device identification tags, with no court oversight.
  • ISPs must reequip networks to allow real-time surveillance of any user, enabling interception of communications of targeted individuals and multiple simultaneous interceptions.
  • ISPs must provide detailed reports of customer activities and network technical capabilities. Their employees will be subject to RCMP background checks.
  • Police will have new power to preserve, access and utilize surveillance data and ISPs may be prohibited from advising customers they have been subject to surveillance or disclosures.
Beyond privacy issues, the new laws impose financial burdens on ISPs, particularly damaging to smaller independents trying to compete with the handful of telecommunication companies that dominate the Canadian market. Through increased costs and complexity of operations, competition within the industry will be decreased. That and hard costs associated with surveillance facilities will drive up Canada's already high Internet access costs and discourage establishment of extended service to rural areas.

Most citizens would agree that law enforcement should be able to monitor communications to address crime, provided their acts are subject to court approval and oversight. The proposed laws go far beyond that principle.

Privacy is not a minor right. Every true democracy guards against unsanctioned invasion of privacy. Using online resources, individuals expect to do personal banking and file tax returns, conduct correspondence and exercise free speech. Business people and researchers expect to conduct lawful work without that information being recorded or disclosed to others.

Whistleblowers are a class of good citizens that government wants to disable. In our present environment, public service insiders with knowledge of criminal influence peddling and fraud have provided information to journalists in return for anonymity. Political masters want to break through privacy shields to discourage spread of unauthorized information.  With contracts and business arrangements potentially worth billions, privacy is absolutely necessary for personal safety of whistleblowers. The case of Karen Silkwood is but one of the justifications.
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1 comment:

  1. The system does indeed need to promote and protect whistle blowers rather than pay them off and in a phony plea bargain arrangement. And then have them sign a "confidentiality agreement". What is so confidential that a paid civil servant cannot talk about? Is it just bad optics or would it be correct to assume there is abviously something there that the public or RCMP need to further investigate and potentially prosecute in a fraud case? Breach of trust? Something? And don't forget the original lie about not "selling" BC Rail.

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