Protestors target West Van MP over Internet surveillance bill

Awna Besan helped deliver a petition against Bill C-30 to MP John Weston’s office Monday.      - Todd Coyne photo
Awna Besan helped deliver a petition against Bill C-30 to MP John Weston’s office Monday.
— image credit: Todd Coyne photo

Activists protesting the controversial Bill C-30 ‘Internet surveillance act’ descended on Conservative MP John Weston’s riding office in West Vancouver Monday, armed with hundreds of constituent signatures opposing the bill.

Known officially as the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act,” the amendment to Canada’s criminal code was first tabled in February and would grant law enforcement and intelligence agencies new powers to access the online accounts and activities of Canadians.

Ostensibly designed to catch criminals preying on minors, the bill quickly came under fire, not only for comments made by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews suggesting critics of the bill “either stand with us or with the child pornographers,” but, substantively, because the bill doesn’t actually address “Internet predators” or “children” outside of its title.

Critics and provincial privacy commissioners slammed the bill, saying it would lead to warrantless spying on law-abiding Canadians and would drive up the cost of Internet connectivity as Internet Service Providers would bear the expense of compliance.

In a statement from Weston’s office on Monday, the MP thanked the protestors for sharing their concerns about Internet privacy, but defended the bill, saying it would bring the powers of Canadian law enforcement up-to-date in their battle against domestic and international crime online.

“It is clear to me that new legislation is necessary to align investigating and policing practices with the technological advancements that have occurred,” Weston said.

But Simon Fraser University communications professor and director of Vancouver’s Centre for Digital Media, Richard Smith, said such stated benefits are unproven, while the real costs in dollars and privacy are too great.

“The link to child pornographers is, of course, a complete joke and should be treated as such,” Smith said in an email to The Outlook Monday.

He warned that forcing ISPs to provide the police with the names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers of those using its services could have serious repercussions on Canadian democracy down the road.

“Systems like this — however well intended — can be misused by future governments, as we have seen in Syria,” he said, noting how information gleaned from ISPs in that country has been used to hunt down anti-government activists.

An August 2011 survey by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that 82 per cent of respondents “opposed giving police and intelligence agencies the power to access email records and other internet usage data without a warrant from the courts.”

As of Tuesday, approximately 150,000 Canadians had signed an online petition calling on MPs to stop Bill C-30, including Awna Besan, the woman who hand-delivered the petition to Weston’s office Monday.

“In my own personal opinion it just comes down to this just not being transparent enough,” Besan told The Outlook. “It doesn’t seem as though anyone in the public has even been asking for this.”

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