the Chestnut Tree Internet Cafe

The conversation about digital rights has been disappointingly unproductive over the last 10 years,  as  governments across the world have sought to enact legislation to update the legal codes for the digital age.  Disappointing because there has been quite a lack of actual dialogue between all sectors of our society on this issue, since 2009 the Lawful Access bills tabled by government have asked for extraordinary powers without providing any reasoning as to why these powers were necessary.  Consider that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada offered the following opinion in 2011

…at no time have Canadian authorities provided the public with any evidence or reasoning to suggest that CSIS or any other Canadian law enforcement agencies have been frustrated in the performance of their duties as a result of shortcomings attributable to current law, [ISP]s or the manner in which they operate.

This worrying trend is in line with many policy decisions being made abroad that in order to increase real time surveillance capabilities.  Monitoring all Canadian internet traffic is going to involve upgrading existing capabilities for surveillance.  The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs presented three alternatives:

  • the telecom companies and Internet providers could pass along the costs in the form of a “public safety tariff” that would apply on monthly consumer bills
  • the government could provide tax credits to telecom companies and Internet providers
  • the government could establish a federal funding pool to cover the costs

Now I wouldn’t consider myself a cynical person, but considering the all too common shifting of tax burden onto the middle class you can bet that the telecom companies will be falling over themselves to point out the “fairness” of the first option.  After all, why should the poor ISP get slapped with the cost of the surveillance technology, they’re not the ones who’s loyalty is in question.

As consumers facing increasing taxes on all sides, we can be forgiven for being concerned about the impact an internet tax would have on IT.  Being  considered to be so high tech and intrinsically tied to people and their ideas rather than tangible goods meant that the industry was less exposed to the volatility of oil prices and the heavy hand of government taxation.   Will an internet tax kill the ability of smaller business to start up, as they have to devote precious capital to making sure that the government knows exactly how many pictures of cats with unfunny jokes Canadians go through a month?   It seems a steep price to pay at a time when austerity is the word on everybody’s lips.

Thankfully the Supreme Court of Canada seems set to challenge the newest incarnation of the Lawful Access Bills, on the notion that they do not provide for adequate enough oversight for officials in charge of actual surveillance provided for in the current bill.   This may be one of the precious few times that we are actually saved by the government’s incompetence at grasping the impact of internet related legislation.  Every delay means the bill is closer to following its predecessors C-50 C-51 and C-52 into the dustbin of internet safety strategies that Orwell’s estate should be claiming patent royalty from.


-Stefan Avlijas @XiiTec Vancouver