The cost of spying online


It’s time to re-imagine the role of both citizens and government. It’s past time for governments to become more permeable and to encourage and empower citizens to govern themselves.

In many ways, the process to re-imagine citizenship and governance seems to be well underway. Citizens are newly empowered by online tools and governments seem to be evolving in order to facilitate deeper citizen participation. Sometimes, that process is expressed through willing governments opening their activities to the public, such as when the City of Vancouver adopted its openness motion. At other times, the catalyst for this change comes in the form of public pressure in reaction to a poorly thought-out government decision.

The latter appears to be at play concerning the Conservative Party’s impending online spying legislation. I’ve written before about how the legislation, if passed, will allow a range of “authorities” to use the Internet to spy on Canadians, without a warrant. I’ve also explained the cost of this invasive online spying will be passed onto you.

The legislation is expensive, excessive and downright bizarre.

If we care about privacy, the open Internet and our basic democratic rights, it’s time to show Public Safety Minister Vic Toews that ramming online spying down our throats has repercussions. Forcing ISPs to install and employ costly online surveillance infrastructure takes Canada in the wrong direction – a dangerous move during an already precarious time in our digital history.

This government wants to achieve “natural governing party” status. If it wants to earn that status, its members must show respect for Canadians. And when they don’t, we need to speak up and let them know there are political consequences for their irresponsible actions.

Recognizing the power of engaged Canadians, the Conservatives, to their credit, did respond quickly on the issue of internet metering earlier this year; backed by the voices of nearly half-a-million Canadians and all major political parties, the Conservatives sent the CRTC back to the drawing board on key pricing rules for independent Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

That decision worked out very well for Conservatives – they temporarily shifted the blame for the dismal state of Canada’s telecom market onto the CRTC, making it seem as if the CRTC is solely responsible for Canada’s market being one of the worst of all industrialized countries. Many Canadians saw the Conservatives as heroes when they told the CRTC to reconsider its rules that would allow big telecom companies to impose Internet metering on nearly all Canadian Internet users.

If the Conservatives learned anything at all from that experience, they’ll move swiftly to adapt their online spying legislation so it is in line with the will of Canadians. We’ll have to wait and see, but the clock is definitely ticking. The Conservatives made an election promise to ram through their online spying (what they call “Lawful Access”) legislation within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament.

This legislation is reckless and irresponsible. We need to make it clear that using our personal information without our permission is unacceptable and that our fundamental right to privacy is important to us. Any proposals to expand telecommunications surveillance must be based on a clear need for new powers, demonstrated through verifiable evidence.

We need to send a strong message: when our representatives take a swipe at our privacy and digital economy with no public consultation, there will be consequences. Canadians can speak out at

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters.

Leave a comment