The Canadian government has gone shady

Y’know, I used to believe that all the really shady governmental meddling always happened south of the border.

Little did I know that our own government has been setting the stage to run things that we’d been taking for granted. I caught this first on SlashDot (news for nerds), which directed me to the appropriate article on the Toronto Star website.

It’s quite freaky, actually. The short version of the story is that Canadian law enforcement wants near-direct access to any information an Telecommunications Service Provider (TSP) might have regarding their users or the information their users transmit over a TSP’s systems. Without court orders and without having to inform the users. The TSP has no legal recourse but to cough up the goods or face fines and jail time.

Awfully heavy-handed, if you ask me. This is not the usual behaviour of our spend-millions-on-useless-inquests governments. Someone’s been taking lessons from Uncle Sam.

There’s a dual impact: not only are our rights to privacy completely ignored (and didn’t we just finish putting in privacy laws?), but there’s a huge financial cost to the TSPs. Three guesses where that cost will be transferred to? Hello, $50 residential phone service.

But where is this all coming from? The majority of it is the internet, which relies heavily on the TSPs for carrying the signals around the country. The internet scares many people, and it’s not just the grandmothers of the world who hear about the “web” and think of a room full of spiders. It scares legislators because the internet has long been out of the reach of the law.

That’s not to say people haven’t tried. Regulation has had some effect in the United States. If you call suing a 12 year-old kid for sharing music files effective, anyway. Here in the Great Not-Quite-White North (all the snow is gone in Calgary), it’s been hands off. Or so we thought.

It seems the hands were under the table, trying to tap into the phone lines. The government wants to know what we’re up to. Telephones, email, FTP transmissions, binary streaming data, even VoIP access. And since the internet also runs across cable providers, I wouldn’t be surprised if venerable televisions falls under the harsh gaze of the RCMP, or even CSIS.

The world changed, and we didn’t notice. We just went along for the ride. But the fear that the world is running unchecked is worrying some up on Parliament Hill, and they want control. Perhaps not direct control, as in North Korea, but they want to know when we’re not behaving.

That’s all fine — we put governments in place so we don’t have to deal with the monotony of Big Picture hassles. That’s what governments do. Did we give them permission to read our emails? Without a court order, I think not.

The legislation currently going through is wide-ranging, and it sounds like it’s pretty vague. They’ll be able to define it however they want, and the only victim is every single Canadian who dares to pick up a phone.

I’m curious to know the underlying reasons. No doubt that fear is an issue — fear that the government doesn’t know what’s going on under the covers. Fear that the CRTC can’t control what goes on over the internet. Fear that the telecoms might suffer as a result of VoIP.

Technology changes at orders of magnitude faster than anyone in the government can comprehend. By the time you finish reading this, something else big will be on its way. Governments cannot expect to manage something like this without having the capability of understanding it.

Perhaps that means we need a Ministry of Information. Yes, that rings of 1984 and Brazil, but that’s not my view. It’s a place where people can understand the technical infrastructure of Canada. What’s going on in those phone lines, and what kind of recommendations can be made to make sure that everyone plays nice, and we don’t impede upon the rights of others. (Like our privacy, for example.)

The world won’t ever stop changing. That means we need to change. And so does the Government’s thinking.

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