Those who create and author technical systems can and do impose their politics, beliefs, and inclinations onto how technology is perceived, used, and understood. On the Internet, this unfortunately means that the technically savvy often recommend choices to users who are less knowledgeable. A number of these recommendations are tainted by existing biases, legal (mis)understandings, or stakeholder gamesmanship. In the case of website development firms, such as Weebly, recommendations can lead users to violate terms of service and legal provisions to the detriment of those users. In essence, bad advice from firms like Weebly can lead to harms befalling their blissfully ignorant users.
In this short post, I talk about how Weebly blatantly encourages its customers to conduct surveillance on websites without telling them of their obligations to notify website visitors that surveillance is being conducted. I also note how the company deceives those visiting Weebly’s own properties by obfuscating whether information is collected and who is involved in the collection of visitors’ data. I conclude by briefly noting that Google ought to behave responsibly and publicly call out, and lean on, the company to ensure that Google’s Analytics product is used responsibly and in concordance with its terms of service.
For the past several years, public advocates, academics, the privacy commissioners of Canada, and members of the Canadian Parliament have all voiced concerns about proposed lawful access legislation. There are generally three types of ‘powers’ associated with such legislation: (1) enhanced search and seizure provisions; (2) increased interception of privacy communications powers; (3) production of subscriber data. During the last election cycle, Stephen Harper assured Canadians that within 100 sitting days lawful access provisions would be passed, along with other legislation, in an omnibus crime bill. Lawful access legislation has not been fully debated in the House or Senate, and has significant implications for the future of anonymity and privacy on the Internet, while simultaneously expanding police powers without a clearly demonstrated need to expand such powers.
Working from the most recent lawful access bills, which died when the last election was called, advocates and academics have come together to send a letter of concerns to Prime Minister Harper. Our concerns are as follows:
The ease by which Canadians’ Internet service providers, social networks, and even their handsets and cars will be turned into tools to spy on their activities further to production and preservation orders in former Bill C‐51 – a form of spying that is bound to have serious chilling effects on online activity and communications, implicating fundamental rights and freedoms
The minimal and inadequate amount of external oversight in place to ensure that the powers allotted in these bills are not abused
Clause 16 of former Bill C‐52, which will allow law enforcement to force identification of anonymous online Internet users, even where there is no reason to suspect the information will be useful to any investigation and without adequate court oversight and
The manner in which former Bill C‐52 paves the way to categorical secrecy orders that will further obscure how the sweeping powers granted in it are used and that are reminiscent of elements of the USA PATRIOT Act that were found unconstitutional.
On a final note, we object that Canadians will be asked to foot the bill for all this, in what essentially amounts to a hidden e‐surveillance tax, and are concerned that compliance will further impede the ability of smaller telecommunications service providers to compete in Canada by saddling them with disproportionate costs.
It is of critical import that the lawful access provisions of the omnibus crime bill are shaved off into their own batch of legislation and are afforded their own debates and hearings. Failing to do otherwise would underplay how much the bills’ massive expansions of surveillance capacities might impact the Internet in Canada, and digital communications in this country more generally. If you want to learn more about the concerns listed above, you can read the full letter that was sent to the PMO (.pdf), and you can take action by voicing your concerns at the Stop Online Spying website. Sign the petition located there and then contact your MP: it is only by demonstrating public interest and concern in these bills that they might be clarified, reformed, and potentially prevented from being brought forward in the first place.
There are ongoing concerns in Canada about the CRTC’s capacity to gauge and evaluate the quality of Internet service that Canadians receive. This was most recently brought to the fore when the CRTC announced that Canada ranked second to Japan in broadband access speeds. Such a stance is PR spin and, as noted by Peter Nowak, “[o]nly in the halcyon world of the CRTC, where the sky is purple and pigs can fly, could that claim possibly be true.” This head-in-the-sands approach to understanding the Canadian broadband environment, unfortunately, is similarly reflective in the lack of a federal digital strategy and absolutely inadequate funding for even the most basic governmental cyber-security.
To return the CRTC from the halcyon world it is presently stuck within, and establish firm empirical data to guide a digital economic strategy, the Government of Canada should establish a framework to audit ISPs’ infrastructure and network practices. Ideally this would result in an independent body that could examine the quality and speed of broadband throughout Canada. Their methodology and results would be publicly published and could assure all parties – businesses, citizens, and consumers – that they could trust or rely upon ISPs’ infrastructure. Importantly, having an independent body research and publish data concerning Canadian broadband would relieve companies and consumers from having to assume this role, freeing them to use the Internet for productive (rather than watchdog-related) purposes.
On Wednesday, July 27 2011, I’ll be talking at the forum to stop online spying. The forum is part of a larger national campaign to raise awareness about the potentials of state surveillance and the implications of the Government of Canada’s (expected) surveillance legislation that will be announced in the fall 2011 session. Amongst other provisions, the legislation is expected to significantly reduce the degree of judicial oversight surrounding government acquisition of subscriber data – data that users of the Internet provide to their ISP, chat services (e.g. MSN, AIM), social networking sites (e.g. Google+, Orkut, Facebook), and other online communications mediums.
I’ll be giving a short talk entitled “Creeping Towards a State of Surveillance” that is meant as an introduction to the gravity and nuances of surveillance legislation. In it, I’ll first talk about what constitutes surveillance and what constitutes function creep. From there, I’ll briefly discuss the challenges associated with classifying data as ‘public’ or ‘private’ and the deficits of ‘anonymizing’ data. This will focus on distinguishing between so-called traffic and content data types, and the kinds of private information that can be extracted from ‘mere’ traffic data. I’ll wrap things up with a quick overview of the positive, and problematic, aspects of audits, advocates, and government commissioners in restraining the state’s appetite for intelligence for so-called policing actions.
If you’re interested in coming out then head over to StopOnlineSpying.com and register. The talks start at 1:30 and run until 5:30, and are a non-partisan discussion of the forthcoming legislative agenda. It’s meant to be heavy on discussion and maximally accessible to people that don’t focus their lives studying privacy, democracy, or telecommunications and has a good mix of advocates and scholars. If you can’t make the forum, but are either bothered by or want to learn more about the Canadian government’s expanded surveillance laws, check out the national campaign.
The Canadian SIGINT Summaries includes downloadable copies, along with summary, publication, and original source information, of leaked CSE documents.
Parsons, Christopher; and Molnar, Adam. (2021). “Horizontal Accountability and Signals Intelligence: Lesson Drawing from Annual Electronic Surveillance Reports,” David Murakami Wood and David Lyon (Eds.), Big Data Surveillance and Security Intelligence: The Canadian Case.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Stuck on the Agenda: Drawing lessons from the stagnation of ‘lawful access’ legislation in Canada,” Michael Geist (ed.), Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era (Ottawa University Press).
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians,” Telecom Transparency Project.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Beyond the ATIP: New methods for interrogating state surveillance,” in Jamie Brownlee and Kevin Walby (Eds.), Access to Information and Social Justice (Arbeiter Ring Publishing).
Bennett, Colin; Parsons, Christopher; Molnar, Adam. (2014). “Forgetting and the right to be forgotten” in Serge Gutwirth et al. (Eds.), Reloading Data Protection: Multidisciplinary Insights and Contemporary Challenges.
Bennett, Colin, and Parsons, Christopher. (2013). “Privacy and Surveillance: The Multi-Disciplinary Literature on the Capture, Use, and Disclosure of Personal information in Cyberspace” in W. Dutton (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.
McPhail, Brenda; Parsons, Christopher; Ferenbok, Joseph; Smith, Karen; and Clement, Andrew. (2013). “Identifying Canadians at the Border: ePassports and the 9/11 legacy,” in Canadian Journal of Law and Society 27(3).
Parsons, Christopher; Savirimuthu, Joseph; Wipond, Rob; McArthur, Kevin. (2012). “ANPR: Code and Rhetorics of Compliance,” in European Journal of Law and Technology 3(3).