Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Internet Wiretapping Bills a Concern

If the Conservatives were to be elected, then Internet wiretapping legislation (from 3 old bills bundled together) would be passed within 100 days.  Following that, the ISPs (major and minor) would have 3 years to implement the requisite monitoring infrastructure. This would be an extensive reworking of their network.

Conservatives say that Internet wiretapping is a necessity. However, they have not provided any significant evidence to support this position, nor have they conducted hearings with ISPs or Privacy Commissioners. Introduced during their last term, many consumers are unaware of the potential impacts of these bills.

The three bills (C-50, C-51, and C-52) would require the following of the ISPs:
·      Disclosure of customer information without court oversight (including both technical and non-technical identification information like names, addresses, IP addresses, email addresses, etc.)
·      Enormously costly re-working of ISP networks to provide the ability to:
o   Intercept communications
o   Isolate communications of an individual
o   Engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions
·      Mandate assistance with testing surveillance capabilities and disclosing the names of all employees involved (RCMP background checks are required)
·      Storage of the information for 90 days

New powers are also on the line for police, such as new transmission data warrants granting real-time access to all the information generated around any Internet communication.

What does this mean for Canadians?

Significant Cost Increase: There are a variety of manufacturers of devices that provide monitoring capabilities.  However, the kind of active monitoring which is being called for  (including deep-packet inspection, which looks at the application data, such as the content of Instant Messaging sessions) requires massive processing power, extraordinarily well-managed networks, and enormous amounts of digital storage.  These requirements increase accordingly as the size of the network increases. All this means a large expense in terms of hardware, but the man-hours required to setup such a system, nation-wide, are perhaps a larger concern.

Increased Monopoly: Smaller ISPs are, in many cases, the only affordable option for Canadians.  Unfortunately, smaller ISPs need to connect to larger ones to get access to the Internet backbone, access for which larger ISPs charge an arm and a leg. These ISPs are frequently staffed in as sparse a manner as possible to keep operating costs low as they are price-gouged in the same manner as the average consumer. Running low-overhead means that they will have a lot less money left over to implement expensive, third-party technologies, and will likely have to take on consultants to perform the work.  This means that, at all levels, there should be a significant increase in cost to the consumer. More worryingly, without Government backing and subsidies for the implementation of these technologies, many smaller ISPs will be pushed out of the black and into the red, forcing Canadians to switch.  This will increase the monopoly of large Internet service providers – a monopoly that charges far more for their services than is reasonable.

Infringement on the Privacy of Canadians: It impresses me that the Canadian Government has not so long ago gotten rid of the long-form census due to privacy concerns, while simultaneously pushing bills to watch what we do online. What is the difference? First, if you are a frequent Internet user, then this monitoring is far more invasive than the census. Second, the forms took time to fill out for citizens, while monitoring is set up without your knowledge, consent, or involvement of any kind.  Therefore, we could conclude that the Harper Government is not one concerned about protecting the privacy of Canadians.  Instead, this government wants to waste Canadian’s time making cheap political moves. Or perhaps it’s not cheap to shorten the census. After all, you were going to have to fill it out someday, maybe even within the next ten years, and I’m fairly certain that pencils are getting more expensive…

The above points, it should be noted, are simply the impacts of the first implementation of this technology.  As in any technological field, dramatic developments are made in short time periods.  These technologies, depending on their implementation, are capable of blocking services intelligently (regardless of port utilized) and are therefore a great threat to Net Neutrality. They give the ISPs the power to not simply throttle, but efficiently block any offending communication. Worse still, they can analyze the content of the packets sent for specific letter combinations, meaning they could potentially block or trigger on specific digital communications.  The implementation of this technology would mean that, if the government so wished, they could pass a new bill mandating a block of certain words in email transmissions (or any other internet service). 

While this is not the intended purpose of the current bills, granting the ISPs such capabilities is not in line with what is in the best interest of Canadians. I believe it puts Net Neutrality and the privacy of Canadians second, with government monitoring slotted into first.

I invite everyone to stand with me against monopoly, secret costs, and infringements on privacy. I invite you to stand with me for Net Neutrality, for affordable access, and privacy of the individual.

Send a message! May 2nd, I invite you to Vote Pirate!

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