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Archive for February, 2012

Politics and privacy in the 21st century

Friday, February 17th, 2012

For those of you who don’t follow Canadian politics, there has been an interesting story developing in the past week. It’s quite illustrative of the direction that public discourse about privacy and security seems to be taking in the Internet age.

The story begins with the current federal government, which calls itself conservative, bringing forward a bill that would enable police to demand logs from public ISPs, without a warrant. Basically warrantless wiretapping for the digital age, at least in certain circumstances.

Click for the actual bill

It’s interesting to see a “conservative” government promote such legislation — they are clearly torn between libertarian impulses (small government) and law-and-order impulses (heavy-handed police powers). It’s not at all clear that their caucus is uniformly in support of this bill.

Incidentally, the offending bit of language appears to be this:

“487.11 A peace officer, or a public officer who has been appointed or designated to administer or enforce any federal or provincial law and whose duties include the enforcement of this or any other Act of Parliament, may, in the course of his or her duties, exercise any of the powers described in subsection 487(1) or 492.1(1) without a warrant if the conditions for obtaining a warrant exist but by reason of exigent circumstances it would be impracticable to obtain a warrant.”

Really? Under what “exigent circumstances” could it conceivably be “impracticable” to obtain a warrant to violate the privacy of a citizen?

Anyways, the story gets more interesting from there, and this is where the intersection of privacy and politics really comes up:

First, Vic Toews, the minister in charge of this dubious legislation stoops to the following assertion in Parliament: “you stand with us or with the pedophiles.” You just have to expect some negative response when you use language like that! The bill has nothing to do with children, incidentally.

So no surprise – a storm of public indignation. Mr. Toews cheerfully renames the bill to “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” but nobody buys this weak attempt at spin.

Next, some twitter accounts show up. Notably two:

  • One divulging all sorts of tawdry details about Mr. Toews’ recent divorce: Vikileaks30
  • One where Canadians share all sorts of inane details from their personal lives, to illustrate the point that the government has no business intruding in this manner, especially without a warrant: #TellVicEverything

So some citizen has access to personal details about Mr. Toews’ divorce and is using it to embarass the minister in an effort to push back against this proposed bit of legislation.

So that’s it, right? Social networking vs. politics?

Not quite.

First, it turns out that the Twitter account is being updated by someone inside Parliament: Ottawa citizen investigative report

The Citizen used a honeypot to lure the genius posting these Twitter messages. The person behind Vikileaks30 is almost certainly one of the newly elected NDP members — many of whom are little more than children, elected by Quebecers who wanted “anything but the static quo” during the last election.

In a final bit of irony it seems that:

  • Mr. Toews’ divorce was triggered at least in part by two affairs over multiple years, one of which led to a child.
  • At least one of the affairs was with a much younger woman and at least one (the same?) was with his childrens’ babysitter.

This last is rich — Mr. Toews is a vocal social conservative, making public noises about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage — but has an affair. He relabels the current bill “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” but has sex with his own childrens’ babysitter, who is of course much younger than himself. Does hypocrisy know no bounds?

So that’s it. The modern face of privacy and politics:

  • Politicians are dirty — both the NDP operative behind Vikileaks30 and Mr. Toews.
  • Politicians talk a good game — ethics and decorum in parliament, protecting children, sanctity of marriage, etc. but practice something entirely different.
  • Legislation relating to privacy, intellectual property, Internet throttling, wireless spectrum access and more is very much on the public agenda, and is in no way obscure legalese that the public doesn’t care about.
  • Even a majority government has to listen to citizens, or risk their wrath at the polls next time around.
  • The opposition seems to be effective in the short term, leveraging public media and exposing dirty laundry, but they are also nasty and ugly, and may be punished for those characteristics on the next poll.