I went to a really interesting forum a couple weeks ago at Simon Fraser University called ‘Stop Online Spying’, organized by the Open Media group and apparently spearheaded by Michael Markwick, who brought along one of his undergraduate classes. It was focused around the Internet surveillance or ‘lawful access’ components of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s crime omnibus bill, which is set to pass in the first 100 days after his reelection. A coalition of advocacy groups and professors have written an open letter to Harper, outlining their objections to the bill, which can be found here.
There were a few familiar faces- Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association, who is always refreshingly straightforward and forthright in her analysis of surveillance law and its implications. She explained how police already had many of the powers that this bill provides, and in fact the bill simply reduces oversight and increases the potential for the abuse of these powers.
A few of the folks from the OpenMedia group presented- this organization was largely responsible for publicizing and organizing against the proposed usage-based billing in Canada. There was also a guy called Christopher Parsons, a PhD at UVic, who I feel like I probably saw at the Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life conference at U of T. He made some really insightful comments on the difference between public and private data, and the importance of ‘meta data’ or ‘traffic data’- the major loophole in electronic communication privacy law.
One really interesting aspect of the forum was a presentation outlining the history of the lawful access bill, which didn’t come from no where, but is just the latest form of a number of previous bills that have been reframed over and over again throughout the years (the presentation was by either Vincent Gogolek of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, or Steve Anderson of Open Media, I cannot recall). This is one of the main points raised in the coalition’s open letter, mentioned above.
It was great to have the opportunity to attend a discussion of Internet surveillance issues that was held close to home, as many of these forums are held in Ontario. It was also nice to hear some of the bright-eyed optimism of some of the undergrads in attendance- events populated by those in the surveillance studies field can often be quite cynical affairs! But this is definitely an issue with the potential to capture the minds of the younger generation, if they are given the opportunity to get to grips with the facts and their implications. This was a great opportunity for them to do just that.