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Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance

My new Guardian column, "Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance," discusses the way that the governments' reliance on social networks for intelligence purposes means that they can't intervene to help their populations get better at trading their privacy for services.

That's a crisis. If online oversharing is a public health problem, then the state's decision to harness it for its own purposes means that huge, powerful forces within government will come to depend on oversharing. It will be vital to their jobs – their pay-packets will literally depend on your inability to gauge the appropriateness of your online disclosure.

They will be on the same side as the companies that profit from oversharing, because they will, effectively, be just another firm that benefits from oversharing.

It's as though Scotland Yard decreed that obesity was critical to its ability to catch slow-moving, easily winded suspects. It's as though the NHS announced it would cope with the expense of an aging population by encouraging chain-smoking. The dangers of oversharing are hard enough to manage when it's just the private sector that benefits from them.

Privacy, public health and the moral hazard of surveillance

Canada's Internet snooping bill is dead

Canada's terrible proposed spying law, Bill C-30, is dead. The Harper Tories, who nailed the colours to the mast on the passage of the law, which would have given nearly unlimited access to private electronic communications to law enforcement, government, and random appointed persons, has issued a statement saying they won't reintroduce the bill. It's a humiliating climbdown and it couldn't have happened to a crummier government. Cory

Canada's telcos secretly backing revival of "dead" warrantless surveillance bill

Michael Geist sez,

Canada's proposed Internet surveillance was back in the news last week after speculation grew that government intends to keep the bill in legislative limbo until it dies on the order paper. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews denied the reports, maintaining that Bill C-30 will still be sent to committee for further study. My weekly technology law column reveals that behind the scenes, Canada's telecom companies have worked actively with government officials to identify key issues and to develop a secret Industry - Government Collaborative Forum on Lawful Access.

The secret working group includes virtually all the major telecom and cable companies, whose representatives have been granted Government of Canada Secret level security clearance and signed non-disclosure agreements. The group is led by Bell Canada on the industry side and Public Safety for the government. It is designed to create an open channel for discussion between telecom providers and government. As the uproar over Bill C-30 was generating front-page news across the country, Bell reached out to government to indicate that "it was working its way through C-30 with great interest" and expressed desire for a meeting to discuss disclosure of subscriber information. A few weeks later, it sent another request seeking details on equipment obligations to assist in its costing exercises.

At a September 2011 meeting that included Bell Canada, Cogeco, RIM, Telus, Rogers, Microsoft, and the Information Technology Association of Canada, government officials provided a lawful access regulations policy document that offered guidance on plans for extensive regulations that will ultimately accompany the Internet surveillance legislation. The 17-page document indicates that providers will be required to disclose certain subscriber information without a warrant within 48 hours and within 30 minutes in exceptional circumstances. Interceptions of communications may also need to be established within 30 minutes of a request with capabilities that include simultaneous interceptions for five law enforcement agencies.

How Canada's Telecom Companies Have Secretly Supported Internet Surveillance Legislation

Canada's warrantless spying bill is coming back, and it's worse than before

Michael Geist writes in with news of Canada's bill C-30, the insane, overreaching warrantless spying bill that collapsed earlier this year on a wave of public disapprobation. As you might have suspected, it's back. Michael sez, "The Canadian government has placed Bill C-30, the lawful access/online surveillance bill on hold, but there is no reason to believe it is going away. In fact, a recent report Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights suggests that the changes coming to the bill may not address public concern but rather expand lawful access requirements even further. The committee report on the State of Organized Crime that includes recommendations that reinforce Bill C-30's mandatory warrantless disclosure of subscriber information and envision going beyond the bill by requiring both telecom companies and device manufacturers to assist in the decryption of encrypted communications as well as exploring mandatory verification of the identity of cellphone users. Moreover, Canadians shouldn't be looking to the telcos for help. A Bell spokesperson stated 'our primary concern in this area has always been the capacity of industry to implement any new requirements and who bears the cost.' That is a troubling position for many Canadians who rightly expect their telecom companies to also be concerned with the privacy of their customers." Cory