Monday, March 07, 2005

Geist: What do you want the internet to be?

Michael Geist's regular column comments upon various trends that he finds worrying, including the Lawful Access Initiative, which will require telcos to make the Canadian Internet wiretap-friendly.

What do you want the Internet to be?

".... Notwithstanding the Internet’s remarkable potential, there are dark clouds on the horizon. There are some who see a very differing Internet. Theirs is an Internet with ubiquitous surveillance featuring real-time capabilities to monitor online activities. It is an Internet that views third party applications such as Vonage’s Voice-over-IP service as parasitic. It is an Internet in which virtually all content should come at a price, even when that content has been made freely available. It is an Internet that would seek to cut off subscriber access based on mere allegations of wrongdoing, without due process or oversight from a judge or jury.This disturbing vision of the Internet is not fantasy. It is based on real policy proposals being considered by the Canadian government today.

Leading the way is the federal government’s “lawful access” initiative. While the term lawful access sounds innocuous, the program, which dates back to 2002, represents law enforcement’s desire to re-make Canada’s networks to allow for lawful interception of private communications. If lawful access becomes reality, Canada’s telecommunications service providers (TSPs) will be required to refit their networks to allow for real-time interception of communications, to have the capability of simultaneously intercepting multiple transmissions, and to provide detailed subscriber information to law enforcement authorities without a court order within 72 hours.

Moreover, Canada’s TSPs will be subject to inspections and required to provide the government with reports on the technical capabilities of their networks. All of these activities will be shrouded in secrecy with TSPs facing fines of up to $500,000 or sentences of up to five years in jail for failing to keep the data collection confidential.All of these changes come at an enormous cost – both financially (hundreds of millions of dollars in new technology) and to our personal privacy. While some changes may be needed for security purposes, the government has yet to make the case for why the current set of powers, which include cybercrime and wiretapping provisions, are insufficient. Moreover, there has been no evidence provided that this approach is the least privacy invasive alternative...."

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