If you’re the sort of person who likes to peruse only the short titles of bills before Parliament you might have thought that the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, introduced by Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, was all about protecting children from being lured by pedophiles over the internet.
Good one Vic, you almost had us there, but then I decided to read the legislation. Section 16(1) of the Act sets out that a service provider must turn over personal information about its customers on request and without a warrant. Section 16(2) says that this request can be in relation to investigations under the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, by a police officer in relation to any laws of Canada or a Canadian province or of a foreign jurisdiction as well as by the Commissioner of Competition under the Competition Act.
So what does the Competition Act have to do with luring children for sexual purposes? Is a dastardly monopolist trying to corner the market on child sex? I don’t think so. More than likely it will be prying into the confidential communications of businesses operating in Canada.
The law clearly isn’t limited to protecting children from internet predators. A demand can be made by police in relation to ANY laws, not only criminal laws, not only laws of Canada or the provinces, but even in connection to laws of a foreign jurisdiction. This legislation grants blanket powers to Canadian police officers to demand information about Canadian internet users in the course of any and all investigations whether it be child luring or tax evasion, jay walking, or censorship laws under federal and provincial human rights legislation as well as the laws of any other country. Canadian police could use this law to hand over your name, address and phone number to police in foreign jurisdictions even when no crime has been alleged in Canada. Its pretty hard to imagine what wouldn’t be a sufficient pretext for a police officer to demand your personal details under this law.
Canadian police already have advanced tools to identify internet communications involving child pornography and the numerous arrests that have resulted clearly show that the need to obtain warrants to identify users hasn’t impeded their investigations. Vic Toews knows that voters support laws to protect children, hence the deceitful short title of this law. He hasn’t fooled anyone with that and he has only made a fool out of himself by claiming that opponents of this law support child pornography.
The Conservative government is right that new laws are needed to deal with 21st century technology, but this isn’t it. Rather than introducing a law to increase the powers of the state to spy on its citizens, what is needed is enhanced protections for privacy from snooping by the police or others.
Anyone who is actually trying to lure children over the internet can hide behind an anonymous proxy. Terrorists and drug dealers can use secure encryption technology to prevent police from reading the intercepted communications. This law will do nothing about those issues but in the course of accomplishing nothing, it will take away fundament rights to privacy of every Canadian.