An open letter to Vic Toews

I am as vocal in my opposition to this bill as I can be without grabbing people on the street and yelling at them to pay attention to how obscene it is. I routinely bring it up in conversation, I talk about it routinely on Twitter, I try to make everyone listen to me when I talk about how flawed it is, and often spam anyone that has the slightest inclination to avoid instantly writing me off as a paranoid nerd with information about it. I’ve donated several hundred dollars to to aid them in raising awareness, and written several letters to my MP, to other members of parliament, signed petitions, etc.

I recently received a form letter Vic Toews’ office attempting to dispel misconceptions about the bill. The form letter, is available here, and my response follows. The full text of the bill, which is mostly dense legalese, can be found here in pdf or as a web page here.


Hi Vic,

Thanks for the reply, I’d like to pose a few questions about some of your myth/fact corrections, most of my questions are caused by the wording of the bill, which seems to leave quite a bit of room for interpretation; which obviously could lead to abuse by less scrupulous persons should they want to justify the actions after the fact by saying the circumstances were special and that a warrant wasn’t in fact needed.

The first point, I’m aware that currently legal means of accessing private data would not change; but that’s not what’s concerning to myself and like-minded individuals. Our problems stem from the new powers that will be granted to the government, and agents of the government such as the local and provincial police, the RCMP and MP appointed ‘inspectors.’ Additionally we’re concerned with the inclusion of warrantless access provisions. The bill infringes on my privacy rights by allowing any entity the ability to access more than just my ‘basic subscriber details,’ in any situation, without having a warrant. Warrants are a crucial check on the power of the police, and by allowing them to have access without a warrant, is invitation to abuse.

The second point, that basic subscriber information is just that -basic information- is all well and good. But the bill provides the power to access much more than just the name, address and IP of a subscriber, and does specify that live tracking of a subscriber’s internet activity is possible, legal, and does not require a warrant.Additionally, the IP address of a subscriber is useless. IP addresses are easily spoofed, transient, and most importantly, not linked to a person. To use the red-herring of child pornography, if my room mate were involved with it, but the account under my name, where is the justification in the police being able to view any of my personal information? This is the same reason that red light cameras do not cause demerits on a driver’s record, only a fine for the registered owner of the car. The red light camera does not precisely identify the driver, only the vehicle. It’s the exact same thing with internet accounts. Add things like unencrypted wireless networks, guest access, malware and items like TOR, and it’s clear to see why this provision is unlawful.

The correction about not offering law abiding Canadians benefits is missing the point of the myth. The average Canadian is a law abiding citizen, and this bill removes, or at least infringes upon, our right to privacy and the national belief that we should not be tracked in everything we do, or even live with the spectre of possibly being tracked. The bill in its current state will do very little, other than offer police the ability to catch very low level players in any criminal enterprise. A simple TLS connection, or significantly strong SSL connection will make any information you receive unintelligible and provide nothing meaningful to the investigation aside from possibly an IP end point.

Further to the basic subscriber information point, if the information is already out there and ‘quite public’ then why do the police need a newly provided power that is essentially unlimited, and in some cases, has no judicial oversight? If they have a case, they should be able to prove it to a judge and receive a warrant without making a mockery of due process.

The next point requires no response, as I cannot find anything in the bill that requires anything other than maintaining historical data for a person who has been targeted in an investigation.

However, the point regarding warrantless access seems to be patently false. While the provisions for basic information do indicate that the release of basic information is voluntary, the ability for an appointed inspector to obtain much more detailed information without a warrant is required. The current wording of the bill states, in section 33 that:

“The Minister may designate persons or classes of persons as inspectors for the purposes of the administration and enforcement of this Act.”

But it does not specify any limitations on the person or classes of persons who would be permitted to administer or enforce the act. While the intention of the act may be to allow any sector of law enforcement to have these powers, the act should be written to avoid potential misuses/abuses of power in the future. Furthermore, sections 34 to 41 inclusive, allow anyone designated by the minister to enter anywhere that -based on my understanding of the text – telecommunications may have taken place, and bring along anyone they’d like, without requiring a warrant, unless that place is someone’s dwelling. It requires ISPs (and the like) to give complete access to anything within that building.

The most troubling portion of the bill, to me, is section 34 which explicitly states that anyone the minister appoints, as well as anyone that person decides to bring along may:

examine any document, information or thing found in the place and open or cause to be opened any container or other thing

While I don’t want to sound alarmist, and have done my best to avoid it thus far, that wording, allows anyone to enter anything other than a person’s house and search through everything, which is horrifying in its scope.Furthermore, it allows it without a warrant, and allows the person(s) entering the location to copy anything they find and retain those copies. The possibilities for abuse of these provisions is limitless, and as we have seen in other countries that have enacted laws akin to this one, the potential abuses themselves often pale in comparison to the abuses that actually occur.

Additionally, the comments linking people opposed to such a vaguely written and overreaching bill to child pornographers is insulting and disingenuous. This bill will not enhance police’s ability to catch the producers of child pornography, the leaders of organized crime, or any terrorist group members, because it is so easily thwarted with the most basic of encryption, proxies, proxy-via-VPN, or by usage of things like TOR. Attempting to drag Canada down to US levels of mudslinging and the mentality of ‘love it or leave it’ or ‘you’re either for it or a terrorist’ is insulting to Canadians and Canadian politics.