Vic Toews, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, has drawn the battle lines in the debate over the policing of cyberspace in the following way: There will be those who stand with the government’s Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act, and those who stand “with the child pornographers.”
The best word to describe the minister's utterance is “silly.” It is unworthy of our Parliament and stands no chance of intimidating critics of the new bill, which was tabled on Tuesday. The proposed law takes important first steps in better equipping police to combat digital crime, while also struggling to protect the rights of Canadians. There is no reason for either side to demonize the other in this critical debate. What’s needed is rational discussion.
Much is already being made of the provision that would force telecommunications companies to hand over – on request and without a warrant – a targeted subscriber’s name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, Internet protocol address and the name of her or her Internet service provider, as long as there were reasonable grounds to believe a crime was about to be committed. No one denies officials need to move quickly when chasing electronic data, which can be erased with the click of a mouse. With proper checks and balances, is this kind of sweeping power acceptable to Canadians if it could prevent the luring of a child by a sexual predator, an act of terrorism or the transmission of a malevolent computer virus?
The law would also force telecommunications companies to install equipment that would allow authorities to monitor its users’ activities, the monitoring limited to cases where a crime is suspected and requiring a warrant. Does this go too far, or is it necessary to combat the potential for Swiss-bank-style service providers whose unsavoury clients are guaranteed anonymity?
These are good questions, Mr. Toews. When it comes to balancing criminal law with the rights of individuals, anyone who does so in good faith is standing with the angels.