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.
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The second reading debate on Bill C-11 will conclude today with the bill headed to committee for further hearings and possible amendment. Yesterday, the Globe published an opinion piece
by Peter Nowak that juxtaposes the widespread consultation on copyright reform in Canada with digital lock provisions that “wilfully ignores” public opinion. Nowak notes how the U.S. ultimately responded to public concern in stopping SOPA, while the same appears to be happening in Europe as protests over the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement continue to grow
(there are continent-wide protests
planned for February 11th).
One of my posts this week focused on concerns that Industry Minister Christian Paradis has said he cannot speculate on how Bill C-11’s digital lock rules will be enforced. The post identifies numerous examples of how the rules could harm creators, students, researchers, consumers, and even the visually impaired (further background information on Bill C-11 here and here). Yet these concerns are not new and have been raised for several years. Indeed, it is instructive to see how the public concern over the digital lock rules and now possible inclusion of SOPA-style amendments has mushroomed over the years.
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