Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Canadian Big Brother

My friend Charlie alerted me to this on Canada.com:
Bill would let police monitor your e-mail
Judge's permission would not be needed


OTTAWA - The federal cabinet will review new legislation this fall that would give police and security agencies vast powers to begin surveillance of the Internet without court authority.

The new measures would allow law-enforcement agents to intercept personal e-mails, text messages and possibly even password-secure websites used for purchasing and financial transactions.

University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, a law and privacy expert involved in consultations over the bill, said a draft version of the legislation circulated earlier this year did not require court authority for police to intercept communications or demand information from Internet servers.

"I think it's the kind of legislation that is literally going to shock millions of Canadians," said Geist.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler disclosed the plan during a speech to a conference of police boards from across the country.

He told reporters he and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan are preparing a memorandum to cabinet following months of discussions with police, privacy experts and the Internet industry....

Cotler says the government wants to put police and security forces on a "level playing field."

"Criminals and terrorists are making use of the most sophisticated technology," said Cotler. "They have become experts, frankly, in transborder communications and transportation technology."

Cotler said the government is aware of objections around the impact on privacy as well as the effect the surveillance could have on the legal rights of citizens.

Under current law, it is illegal to intercept and open letter mail, but it is unclear whether e-mails are in the same legal category.

The Defence Department's Communications Security Establishment has the ability to intercept all telephone communications within Canada and calls across the border, but must obtain ministerial permission to intercept and record telephone calls in which at least one Canadian citizen is involved.

And police need court permission to eavesdrop on telephone conversations....
What struck me the most is Public Safety Minister, presumably the corrolary to our Homeland Security Secretary.

The unrestricted ability of government to monitor e-mails is insignificant next to the power of the Force is easily countered by simple encryption technology. Once Canadian law enforcement can monitor e-mails without court approval, smarter criminals will not respond by using encryption software to thwart law enforcement: odds are that they're using it already! Thus these new powers will have no net benefit; they'll catch only the very stupidest criminals.

Meanwhile, government will have usurped authority over people's private correspondence. Government does not have the right to ask, "What do you have to hide?" The people, on the other hand, have every right to ask, "On what grounds do you suspect me of being a criminal?"

Should these powers pass scrutiny, I hope that peaceful, law-abiding Canadians remember that nothing prevents them from using encryption, either -- unless Canada then bans civilian use of encryption software "because it interferes with law enforcement." That would prove the saying, "When privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy."

Encryption plug-ins, including PGP, are available for popular e-mail programs like Outlook, Outlook Express, and Mozilla Thunderbird (if you use the first two, please be careful because of their many security weaknesses that hackers continue to discover). So it's become quite easy to incorporate encryption into your e-mails, not just to keep the contents pretty secure, but to assure the recipient via a PGP signature that the message really did come from you. You can also resort to the original, tried-and-true method of pasting your message text into your PGP program and using the output as the new message body.

For instant messenging, I like Gaim with the Off The Record Messaging plug-in. Note that there's a flaw in OTR, but a temporary workaround exists.

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