By Brian Jackson

It’s hard to imagine what points Public Safety Minister Vic Toews thinks he is scoring when he describes those concerned about the implications of increased government Internet surveillance as supporting child pornographers.

The Conservative MP made the statement in parliament yesterday while defending the government’s planned legislation that will require Internet service providers to hand over customer information to police without a warrant. Apparently the debate, in Toews own words, is reduced to “stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Such stark extremes haven’t been presented to the public since George W. Bush earnestly told the world that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” shortly following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. (Toews’ quote has already been added to the “with us or against us” Wikipedia entry.) Not only does the approach harken back to what is now a passé neo-conservative mindset, but it is actually a logical fallacy. Toews is arguing that child pornographers wouldn’t support the government’s proposed “lawful access” bill because it could lead to getting thrown in jail. Therefore, his broken logic goes, all those who oppose the lawful access bill must support child pornographers.

Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca
Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca

But Toews has forgotten about one group of people who might be both against lawful access legislation tabled today in parliament, and also be against child pornographers: people who value freedom. Like Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

The commissioner held an entire symposium at the end of January to raise concerns about lawful access legislation. She warned that it could lead to a system of “surveillance by design” where law-abiding citizens are open to being tracked by government and law enforcement officials. Cavoukian, in blogging for ITBusiness.ca, has linked privacy to the freedom of choice and control over one’s own personal information.

If the “lawful access” legislation becomes law, then Internet service providers will be obligated to track the online activities of customers and turn over the information to police when it’s requested – the person that information belongs to will not be informed. Bill C-30 demands mandatory disclosure of name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, IP address, and local service provider without a warrant being presented.

That certainly sounds like a loss of control, and therefore an intrusion upon freedom.

For smaller ISPs, the cost burden and logistics of maintaining such a database on their customers will be painful. It’s likely that rates customers pay to access the Internet will be raised so that ISPs can afford to track their activities properly. For small businesses giving employees Internet access, they will now have more incentive to worry about what content their staff might stumble upon online since legal ramifications could result. Businesses will probably put more online censors in place and more closely control and monitor employee Web surfing.

Toews’ implication that lawful access legislation will help lock up pedophiles is questionable. After announcing 60 arrests in a raid earlier this month, Ontario police revealed they had linked 9,000 IP addresses to child pornography, found in every major centre in Ontario. It seems the problem is not collecting more information on the perpetrators, but having the police resources dedicated to following through on making arrests.

Clearly there are many more nuanced arguments against lawful access legislation than Toews’ false dichotomy of absolutes suggests. But if the Minister wants to argue using logical fallacies, I can play that game too.

Since lawful access will infringe of Canadians’ privacy, and privacy is a type of freedom, then those in support of lawful access are against freedom. That makes Vic Toews against freedom.

 

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