What a Difference a Week Makes: The Fight Against Online Surveillance

When the government placed the Internet surveillance bill on the notice paper one week ago, few would have predicted that within days of the introduction, the anger with the legislative proposals would have been so strong that the government would steadily backtrack on its plans, with Public Safety Minister Vic Toews yesterday telling the House of Commons the bill will go to committee before second reading to ensure that there is greater openness to amendments (changes are more restricted after second reading). While the battle is only beginning, the overwhelming negative reaction seems to have taken the government by surprise.

There are undoubtedly many factors that led to the early successful fight against the bill. Toews’ outrageous comments on siding with child pornographers the day before the bill was even introduced placed the government on the defensive from the outset. The substance of the bill is genuinely bad as there is no need for hyperbole to explain the privacy threats that come from mandatory disclosure of personal information without court oversight. This is an issue that resonates with both sides of the political spectrum with criticism from Conservative MPs and supporters particularly telling.

Yet this time I think there is something more happening. Government ministers often make ill-advised comments, yet few sink support for legislation so quickly. Privacy is a major concern, but it rarely generates this level of interest (the Privacy Act has not been amended in over 30 years despite repeated efforts to do so and there are no protests over the delayed Bill C-12, the privacy reform bill, languishing in the House). There has been conservative criticism of other government initiatives, but it rarely generates such a quick reaction.

The “something more” is the Internet and how over the past month it has emerged as a powerful political force in North America and Europe.

The emphasis to date has been on copyright, but it is about more than just copyright. From the SOPA protests in the United States that successfully stopped dangerous legislation to the anti-ACTA protests in Europe that led tens of thousands to take to the streets to the Canadian fight against Bill C-11’s digital lock rules and potential incorporation of SOPA-style amendments, Internet users are reacting to efforts to impose restrictions on privacy, free speech, and consumer rights by fighting back.

Yesterday’s Twitter-based #tellviceverything was the perfect illustration for how the Internet can fuel awareness and action at remarkable speed. Through thousands of tweets, Canadians used humour to send a strong message that the government has overstepped with Bill C-30 (my favourite remains @kevinharding’s Hey @ToewsVic, I lost an email from my work account yesterday. Can I get your copy?). Alongside the Twitter activity are dedicated websites, hundreds of blog postings from commentators on the left and right of the political spectrum, thousands of calls and letters to MPs, and nearly 100,000 signatures on the Stop Spying petition at Open Media.

The numbers are also big on the copyright front in Canada. Nearly 50,000 have signed the No Internet Lockdown petition focused on copyright reform and more than that number have sent emails to MPs opposing the current digital lock rules in Bill C-11. Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore may defend the bill as rejecting American style approaches, but in light of the DMCA-like provisions on digital locks, those claims are no more credible that Toews’ assertions about lawful access.

Politicians and political parties have been anxious to tap the Internet as a funding source and as a platform to disseminate their message. Many have been slow to recognize that it is a two-way conversation, however. In recent weeks, Internet users – who are now the overwhelming majority of Canadians – have found their voice. It is informed, funny, and loud. As I wrote last week in the context of copyright, can you hear us now?


  1. not a happy Canadian thanks to harper and the CPC says:

    We need a petition to send 2 GG of Canada and to the Her Majesty The Queen to Remove Haper and the CPC from office
    We Canadians need a petition to send to The Governor General of Canada His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston and to the Queen to Remove Haper and the CPC from office.

    I would type one up but have no clue how to word it.

  2. This has nothing to do with Harper and the CPC.

    If you were actually a reader of Geist’s blog, you’d know that the liberals tried to cram the same stuff down out throat when they were in power.

    It doesn’t matter the colour of the political stripes, they’re all the same when it comes to internet surveillance.

  3. Govener General
    Does the GG still have this sort of power? I thought it was nothing more than a figurehead position these days.

  4. Great!
    Now we have a small political win distracting us from the DRM restrictions. Fair use is getting flushed. The government has basically timed this as a misdirection. Don’t let them fool you, if you truly want privacy in a digital age, utilize the tools that accomplish it.

    Do NOT expect the law to protect your privacy on the internet.

    This law should not be the focus; it doesn’t change anything if it gets passed or not.

    DRM restriction and fair use on the other hand could lead us into a world were any corporation can demand your personal information before you get to view their content.

  5. The Calvary has arrived …
    @Windows8 “a small political win distracting us from the DRM restrictions”

    I too have wondered if they saved the Lawful Access (I refuse to call it by it’s new name) was pulled from the crime omnibus bill to be dished out now as a distraction to C-11 and others. If so, it looks to have backfired! It might have been a good idea in the Fall but as Geist says, the political protest landscape has changed drastically in the last few months.

    Apart from that it is still heartening to see these issues FINALLY rising into the public conciousness. Those of us who have been hammering at these issues tirelessly for the last few years welcome it gladly. I suspect there are a few user rights ‘distractors’ out there who are less than pleased though 😀

  6. What if address was spoofed
    What if the IP address for VikiLeaks30 was spoofed to look like house of commons? It would demonstrate one more reason why C30 is problematic. #irony

  7. @PH so true. I remember the day i got pack home from vacation and my Rogers router was offline (disconnected from service) so i called up rogers and they said I had a virus and they also said that they turned off service 3 days before (I got back home from vacation. I said how did you find this out and they said the day they shut my service off they saw my system sending lots if I think they said “packets?” I then said “How could that be when my system has been powered off for the past 3 weeks” and they said nothing after that. I had to agree on audio recording that I will run Anti-virus software and remove the virus(s)” in order for them to turn my service back on.

    this my my friend proves that Bill C30 is problematic.

  8. There are so many layers of twisted irony here …
    … that I’m not sure where to begin.

    One thing is for certain, the Tories are still not getting it. As distasteful as the content was, the point is invasion of one’s privacy is never appreciated. While the tweeted info was publicly available, HOW MUCH WORSE is it going to be when ‘people appointed by the minister’ can walk into an ISP office and at that point access anything about anyone in the government installed snooping database?

    The outrage over this is not going to go away with lame hail-Mary distractions like renaming the bill to cover their foot in mouth (how utterly transparent), and witch hunts in the commons. I mean really, nothing said on the tweets was anything worse than the crap that flies to and fro across the isles on any given discussion period. Neither was the information obtained illegally but on the public record.

    What people should be asking themselves is should a hypocritical man like Vic Toews be representing them?

  9. @Crocket
    “HOW MUCH WORSE is it going to be when ‘people appointed by the minister’ can walk into an ISP office and at that point access anything about anyone in the government installed snooping database?”

    How much worse would it be for any number of interested parties (Espionage agents, social engineers, hackers, anarchists, terrorists and pedophiles who want to wipe their data) can fake these credentials and gain access to any ISP office or file?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if you find credential badges for the “Canadian ISP Liaison Officer” online after/if this bill is released.
    Intruder: Let me into that server room right now!
    ISP Employee: can I see your credentials?
    Intruder: Sure, here you go.
    ISP Employee *opens door*

    Wire tapping law just makes the game more fun!
    Please: protest DRM provisions. DRM screws fair use, and allows corporations to daisy chain your private information to other corporations, violating your privacy and your ability to view content.

  10. peanutsrnuts says:

    A voice of sanity heard from you and our Privacy Commissioners and the Civil Liberties Association.

    Now, can you tell us what to do to STOP ACTA from being engaged seeing how Harper signed off on it way back in Oct. 2011?

    You wrote, ” Canada has an intellectual property enforcement bill drafted and ready to go. That bill will create new border measure powers and establish additional enforcement tools. Look for Budget 2012 to include funding to support the intellectual property enforcement initiative that will pave the way for the IP enforcement bill and subsequent ratification of ACTA (as well as agreement on the Canada – EU Trade Agreement).”

    From your blog: Oct.3,2011

    So, what do we do to STOP the support of ACTA seeing how most of Europe is vociferously protesting its passage. I particularly enjoyed V-Vendetta Anonymous face masks in a local European parliament.

    What do Canadians do to stop this old bill as well as the new bill C-30? Renaming it now will hardly work at this point.

  11. Example
    Windows 8 UEFI secure boot process. This is the lynch pin. If DRM restrictions are put through, new hardware has to run windows 8 and it is illegal to install another operating system.

    If we are all running windows 8 it makes it easy for the government to wiretap us. Both these laws go hand in hand, but with the DRM law, they have the technology to track us. The other law just gives them permission if they get caught tracking us.

  12. Intersting …
    The comment counter on any major story on this issue seems to be in overdrive, easily reaching over 2000 in half a day. I’d say over 90% of the comments are against these policies and the tactics that the Tories are using to try to deflect.

    So encouraging, keep it up enraged public. About time politicians were finally held accountable to their constituents past the ballot box, hurray for the internet! In trying to shut this new vehicle of protest down, governments are only making it louder and stronger.

  13. Related …
    The Tories may have blinked one eye on this issue but their record on hiding & cutting debate has a long history. People are now starting to notice …

  14. Jack Robinson, London Ontario says:

    Toews’ Crockpot Consternation Irony
    Given the vituperous Vicster’s rancour over the on-line purloining and Pox Populi expose of his privvy personal dirty laundry whilst serving as New Rome North’s sycophant sock-puppet shill for Billious C-30’s Reich-style warrantless rooting through Canadians’ e-mail and address books, web search profiles, tweets, kissy-Facebook friends and fellow travellers… Methinks that Our Mugwump Minister of Security deserves more than just a patty-cake whackin’ out behind the Tory Fat Boyz woodshed… But a rubber-gloved cranial cavity search as to to his synaptic suitability for his Cabinet of Caligari Status.

  15. Vic
    I said this on Twitter, but now Vic hopefully understands that just because someone wants to keep data private, does NOT mean they’re doing something illegal. I know I’l take criticism over this, but while I do think the @vicileaks thing on twitter was mean-spirited, I do believe it may have been necessary to really drive home the point that if private information is easily available, it will be abused, given the opportunity/need. This is what the CPC should be taking away from this. In that sense, I think @vicileaks was very successful in a way that the more comical #TellVicEverything could not possibly have been. Still, nothing illegal was done, mean-hearted, yes, illegal, no…and Toews wants to make private information even easier to get…hmmmm Methinks he should grow a thicker skin.

    We should be striving to increase privacy protect, not to gut it.

  16. Bill-C30
    I am confused by this bill – does it not enshrine on our basic rights into the Canadian Constitution, which is the highest law in Canada.

    “The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure”
    This legislation blatantly violates those rights

  17. @Sara
    It doesn’t matter, the current situation with law enforcement is that we spy on US citizens (pedophiles), and share the information with the FBI, while the US spies on our citizens and provides information to our RCMP.

    Even if our economic ties become closer to China, this kind of citizen espionage will occur no matter what we do, as international cooperation can sidestep our federal laws.

    The big evil here is UEFI secure boot (aka DRM), because it gives hardware manufacturers, the government, big content providers and windows a monopoly on our information.

  18. windows8: Actually, UEFI doesn’t stop somebody from installing another OS onto their PC – although it *MIGHT* prevent Windows from working when another OS has been installed on the same computer, unless you always boot to the other OS by using a USB key, or CD, and don’t modify the boot sector of the drive. It is not necessary to bypass UEFI to do this.

    It will almost certainly *not* be possible to install another OS while using Windows on a UEFI machine, however… although in practice this should not generally be a reason for concern. The biggest problem with UEFI as it concerns OS choice freedom is how it will impact dual booting straight from the hard drive.

  19. Oh YES you did Vic. Yes you did.
    You lying prick.

  20. ZDNet’s Pulp Tech Blogger rang a bell in my head yesterday with her words:

    “So when you hear me going off in this space about the necessity of pseudonyms in social networks, and real-world consequences for totalitarian censorship, and pornography being used as a foil for silencing speech and creating oppression…

    Please do connect the dots.”

    What we have is pretty fragile, and pretty precious.

  21. Guilty Until Proven Innocent
    Think about the implications of the proposed new legislation combined with Vic Toews’ declaration that we’re a bunch of child pornographers merely because he says so. So, we’re guilty based on Vic Toews’ say-so, and the government can invade our private communications to prove that we are? That is problematic. I mean that is problematic in a “democracy”.

    Vic Toews was the voice of the ruling party when he fingered the greater populace as child pornographers. That ruling party has a majority. The bill will pass.

  22. Smoke and Mirrors
    Hi Michael

    Long time reader, maybe you should bring to the people’s attention that maybe the Conservatives are using this controversial surveillance bill as smoke and mirrors to fast track and pass Bill C-11 by mid March.

  23. Muhahahaha

    paying a fee of $27 so you can have your e-mail under surveillance. Nice job.

  24. Wondering if University of Ottawa will sign too. Then Michael will have to cc: Access Copyright on all his e-mails. LOL!!!!!

  25. @Napalm
    Student and faculty endorsed a vocal letter opposing. Several stood up in a U of T council meeting against it, but in the meeting they were basically dismissed.

  26. @Jay:

    So how can we find out the names of those that signed the agreement?

  27. The signed UofT-Access Copyright agreement was posted on


    From the last page, I read that it was signed by Cheryl Misak on 2012-01-30 on behalf of U of T, but it’s probably fair to say it would have been the decision of the whole Governing Council, or a quorum thereof.

    I’m not familiar enough with U of T to know what role she was acting in but here’s the org chart in case you’re interested in all the roles.

    They have other information if you’re interested

    You might not have noticed but there’s also a link at the bottom of Katz’ page to another letter, written by The Canadian Federation of Students, also denouncing the agreement

  28. @Jay:

    Thanks! They all deserve a special place in the academic hall of fame.

    And no, institutions/corporations don’t sign contracts. It’s humans that do.

  29. How Legal Was Nazi Germany ??
    Most people may not be aware that the Nazi atrocities were in fact legal by German standards .. I mean Hitler did pass these laws through their legal system before ‘lawfully’ murdering thousands !! So now we have a similar situation where our governing party passes laws that would be otherwise incomprehensible to a free society .. just before the cleansing !! Those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it .. just with a new smug Harper-esque face and a different icon on the sleeve !! What will you do .. stand and spread the word or lay down and sleep (eternally) ??

  30. @Informed …

    I suspect you mean well, but comparing anyone to Nazis is a sure way to get your opinion ignored. Are the Tories pushing for too much authoritarian oversight? Most people would say so, but comparisons of our issues to the horrible atrocities of that era is as much hyperbole as is coming from them.

    Just MHO.

  31. Frogs boil when the temperature rises

    I question your decision to remain asleep ..
    Within two minutes you can find “25 Signs that America is rapidly becoming more like Nazi Germany” .. search that term up this is current events within the past 48 hours it’s just that easy !! The same policies are being implemented by the same players on our home-court here Crockett .. so I appreciate your opinion but I’m very thankful that its value is about 1 / 7,000,000,000 of the overall global view !!

  32. @Crockett
    He is not to far off, Harper started his political career as a far right fascist.

  33. RCMP should investigate Vic Toews for child pornography
    Toews said anyone opposing the bill was a child pornographer and now HE opposes parts of the bill. By his own words that makes him a child pornographer and I hope the RCMP will show up at his office and homes to search his computers without a warrant! If he objects, it would be proof that Vic Toews is a child pornographer.

  34. Nazis …again
    Informed …

    We probably agree on many points; corporate control of Washington has gotten out of hand, we all hate the RIAA and their ilk, and ACTA is an invasion without guns but an encroachment on sovereignty nevertheless.

    Just the same, no Jewish people are being gassed.

    I am encouraged by the recent public push back to very bad and exclusive legislation, about time! My point was hyperbole tends to alienate people who may come to this blog, and that would be a shame.

  35. @Crockett
    Agreed. Lets eliminate the hyperbole and innuendo. On both sides.

    Lets focus on the issues in these bills. Focus on the evidence in support, and against, these bills. Focus on the costs, and the evidence that these costs to society will be worth it.

    I recognise that this government, and many others around the world, are being pressured to “do something about the internet”. It doesn’t matter if the pressures come from lobby groups, or from citizen groups, or law enforcement groups, or where ever.

    The fact of the matter is that the “internet” is the most powerful set of tools ever made available to society, all the interacting parts of society. The various pressure groups, and the governments, have lost sight of the fact that the internet is simply a set of tools used by society. Society has been changed by the very use of those tools. Society will resist any attempts to reduce the usefulness of those tools. It doesn’t matter if they have to add additional technologies to the internet, or if they use the internet itself as way to voice their displeasure.

    The internet has already become an integral part of our society. We/you/they cannot “do something about the internet” without also “doing something” about that changed society. Any proposed measures need to be carefully considered for their effect on the whole of society. Approach our policies delicately, diffidently, with a complete understanding of all the effects, and fully transparent to that same society.

    Hyperbole, innuendo, and idealism, are counter productive.

  36. Privacy Rights
    @Sara@tucows: you touch on a very good point that I have not heard made in relation to this bill. Part of the language removes penalties for ISP’s complying with “requests” for the information (warrant or no warrant). What this means is that we have no expectation of privacy from the ISP. Sure, typical contract language says they obey our privacy except when “required” by law, but those Terms of Service are subject to change at their whim and without notice.

    Without moving to hyperbole, this effectively creates a tattle-tale state where citizens have to expectation of privacy, even from those whom we pay directly.

  37. 😀
    Where are all the copyright maximalists on this issue? Personal rights and the protection thereof have always been first on their agenda.

    Oh, wait that would make Geist right after all … never mind!!!

  38. STOP american IP legislation in Europe !!!
    STOP american IP legislation in Europe !!!

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