By Drew Wilson
It’s one of the bills that Canada proposed last year that was applauded by many – a bill that would at least make an attempt to curb the tide of spam messages flowing into inboxes everywhere. While it seemed like a slam dunk for the government to pass at first, it’s being held up for quite an extended period of time. One reason it has been delayed is, oddly enough, objections from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who want to use secret monitoring software on users computers.
At first, the idea that stopping spam would hurt secret surveillance measures makes about as much sense as the idea of stopping the production of glass would hurt the chances of picking the right colour of socks to wear in the morning, but that’s what’s happening with the anticipated anti-spam law right now. A report from the CBC shows what one of the hold-ups were:
But an attempt by Canadian ISPs to garner an all-access pass that would let them secretly install software to monitor potentially illicit user activity was thwarted, at least in part.
According to the note accompanying the draft regulations, industry representatives “had argued for exemptions from the requirement for consent to install software to prevent unauthorized or fraudulent use of a service or system, or to update or upgrade systems on their networks.”
Consent would still be needed to install software to “prevent legal activities that are merely unauthorized or suspicious, or where an installation is not required for a system-wide upgrade or updates.”
For some Canadians, this might be a little confusing because the surveillance legislation is still not really going anywhere. One famous comment that sunk the chances of such legislation passing came from Minister Vic Toews who, while defending the legislation, famously quipped during a session of question period, “He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”
So, why is there comments about secret surveillance software being installed in the first place? While it might be disturbing that software is being installed on computers without the users consent, there is a very narrow list of reasons that ISPs can spy on users computers such as someone suspected of trafficking or producing child pornography. At this point, one might ask why the controversy surrounding the surveillance legislation if its already happening? The answer is that the surveillance legislation would have offered a broad list of reasons to spy on an individual without court oversight and very limited safeguards. Right now, under a number circumstances, a court is required to give the green light for surveillance.
So, unless you are suspected of being about to carry out a terrorist activity or are just about to go kill someone, the chances of being monitored closely is somewhat slim at this stage. This doesn’t mean that the government won’t be trying to change that anytime soon. There have been a number of attempts in the past to pass surveillance legislation that would greatly increase the amount of surveillance activity on the Internet by police and ISPs for an increasing number of reasons. Attempts happened between both Conservative and Liberal parties when each respectively were in power. That is why many Internet advocates in Canada will be on guard in the event that there will be, yet another, attempt to pass surveillance legislation.
Still, these latest comments by ISPs do offer an interesting insight into what does go on behind the scenes as you calmly search through Facebook to see what random people are up to. Canada isn’t completely surveillance-free as some might think thanks to the sinking of several surveillance bills, but many know that things could be much more heavily monitored if the government got the opportunity.
Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85