Public opposition to the federal government’s “lawful access” bill continued to grow over the weekend, as hacker group Anonymous stepped into the fray with a threat to reveal more personal information about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews if the legislation isn’t scrapped.
It’s the latest salvo in a series of personal attacks against the minister, who last week was targeted by a Twitter user posting excerpts from Mr. Toews’s divorce affidavits.
The Conservatives say the proposed law – which allows police to access basic personal information about Internet users without first obtaining a warrant – would offer a necessary tool to help catch individuals who use the Internet to prey on children. Internet-privacy advocates, meanwhile, view it as an unnecessary intrusion into Canadians’ personal lives.
On Saturday, someone claiming to represent Anonymous posted a YouTube video demanding that Mr. Toews step down and threatening to release personal information about him if Bill C-10 goes forward.
More than 100,000 people have signed an Openmedia.ca petition opposing the bill, and online comment boards are packed with users expressing concern about its privacy implications. But pollster Darrell Bricker said it’s unlikely that most people in the broader public would have paid attention to the issue had it not been for some polarizing comments Mr. Toews made last week.
Responding to criticism of the bill, the minister declared that opponents stood either with the Conservatives or “with the child pornographers,” prompting widespread indignation.
“It was unnecessary, not something that would probably pass the smell test with people that are commentators on issues like this or people even within the general public,” said Mr. Bricker, who is CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.
Mr. Toews eventually retreated from the statement, telling CBC Radio host Evan Solomon on Saturday that if the public viewed his comments as inappropriate, he was “prepared to accept their judgment.”
The Conservatives also said they would send the bill directly to a parliamentary committee for review, rather than waiting until after second reading, signalling they are willing to accept a broader range of amendments.
“My guess is … there’ll be some discussions, and cooler heads will prevail. People will come up with some amendments that the opposition can somewhat live with and they’ll move ahead with some version of this bill,” Mr. Bricker said on Sunday.
OpenMedia.ca, an internet privacy group, said the government’s willingness to accept amendments to the bill is a positive step, but it would still prefer to see the legislation scrapped entirely.
If passed in its current form, the bill would require telecommunications service providers to hand over a name, address, phone numbers, e-mail address and Internet Protocol address to police upon request and without a warrant.
“It’s a really poorly thought out bill, it’s really invasive, and frankly there’s no need for it,” OpenMedia.ca spokeswoman Lindsey Pinto said. “It’s not something that’s going to be acceptable in Canadian society.”
In the meantime, Mr. Toews has asked the Speaker of the House to investigate the origin of the Tweets about his divorce. In a letter sent to the Speaker’s office on Friday, the minister accused “one MP or his or her office” of orchestrating the attack.
A report by the Ottawa Citizen last week connected an e-mail address associated with the Twitter account to a House of Commons IP address, and the Conservatives have since accused the NDP of being behind the posts – something the NDP says is unfounded.
“Details of my personal life have been transmitted to the general public from an Internet Protocol Address associated with the House of Commons in a misguided attempt to gain political advantage,” the minister wrote in his letter to the Speaker.
A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Office said, “We are aware of the allegations and looking into the matter.”
In addition, the RCMP has been asked to investigate “threatening communications” against the minister. Mr. Toews’s office declined to elaborate on the specific nature of the threats, saying only that they were serious enough to warrant a call to police.