Canadian government looking to put a bit more Big Brother in your ISP

Michael Geist's blog is reporting that Public Safety Canada has launched a semi-private consultation on whether Internet Service Providers should be required to submit the names and addresses of their users to law enforcement. Geist refers to this isse it by its legal name- lawful access- while the nice folks at Boing Boing call it by the more sinister-but-perhaps-accurate moniker, net-tapping. There's no information about this on the PSC website, and Geist was asked not to put any details online. I love that spirit of open discussion. Thumbs up, fellas. The CBC and CTV have also picked up the story.

Thankfully, Geist has run the blockade and put some useful info on his site. Since the info already leaked to our national broadcasters, Geist is probably in the free-and-clear. In any event, here's PSC's justification for the hearing:

"Law enforcement agencies have been experiencing difficulties in consistently obtaining basic CNA information from telecommunications service providers.  In the absence of explicit legislation, a variety of practices exists among [Telecommunication Service Providers] TSPs with respect to the release of basic customer information, e.g. name, address, telephone number, or their Internet equivalents." 

Basically, they want ISPs to hand over data without proper judicial oversight, like a court order. To deal with the forest of privacy issues this extra-judicial data mining, a variety of safeguard and use restrictions are recommended. Here's the thing: safeguards can easily be circumvented or removed by an unscrupulous government. See also: The United States under the Bush Administration.

Said Geist:

"This is an important issue and I believe that the government should hear from all interested stakeholders, not a hand-picked, secret group....The lawful access issue has often raised the spectre of "big brother" fears.  Establishing a non-public public consultation that omits a range of pro-privacy policy alternatives and excludes many interested stakeholders leaves the distinct impression of a process that has already been determined and one that makes the Orwellian concerns all the more real."

Shame on Public Safety Canada. This kind of cloak-and-dagger policy making has no place in Canada.