How far would you go to track down terrorists and child pornographers? Would you willingly leave your personal information open to a data breach? Would you give up your right to privacy and information security? Would you open your personal e-mail, text messages, chat messages, browsing history, whereabouts, likes and dislikes, personal thoughts and those of every one of your friends and family to the scrutiny of… whoever can get their hands on it? Both the UK and Canada are proposing programs that would, effectively, do this.
You’d expect these types of initiatives from countries that have well documented restrictions on civil liberties. Countries in the Middle East and Asia are often under fire for their draconian policies when it comes to online privacy and freedom of speech.
Security at What Cost?
The US already has the Patriot Act, which allows for way too much interference in the private information of citizens in the name of combating terrorism. Critics of this Act have warned that it could lead to the development of massive databases about citizens who are not the targets of criminal investigations and they say the language of the act could lead to privacy violations of anyone who comes into casual contact with a suspect.
Now the UK is proposing a new online surveillance initiative that would require broadband providers, landline and mobile phone companies to keep a record of all text messages, phone calls, emails, social media messages and every website visited by members of the public for up to a year.
A Blow to Democracy
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Nick Pickles, director of the UK privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said in a blog post this week: “At a time when the internet is empowering people across the world to embrace democracy, it is shameful for one of the world’s oldest democracies to be pursuing the kind same kind of monitoring that has a stranglehold on civil society in China and Iran…
“The data would be a honey pot for hackers and foreign governments, not to mention at huge risk of abuse by those responsible for maintaining the databases. It would be the end of privacy online,” he wrote.
Minister of Illogical Ultimatums
A similar issue is getting attention in Canada, where an online surveillance bill (Bill C-30) has citizens very concerned about their personal privacy. The legislation would extend the powers of police and other authorities to access the private information of Canadians without having to get a warrant and put a burden on ISPs to store and make available the data. Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, who is supporting the bill under the guise of tracking child pornographers, said last week that those who oppose the bill are “with the child pornographers”, eliciting a flurry of criticism and calls for his resignation.
Nobody I’ve seen so far has managed to capture the issue with the humor and insight of Canadian comedian Rick Mercer who puts the situation into perfect perspective here: