Friday August 29, 2014

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Distracting people from the real issues at hand

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If there's one constant in the world, it's that people do not want to see bad things happen to children. It makes sense, children have not been alive for very long, are often unable to control their own destiny and are the more vulnerable members of society. This is a good instinct, but it's an instinct which can be easily exploited by those who want to deflect criticism. Since anything bad happening to kids is a negative, it becomes more difficult to attack proposals which are pitched as helping kids in some way. The cries of "think of the children" are positioned to drown out any protests.

I bring this up because of the way a new piece of legislation is being handled. The new legislation would require telecommunications and internet providers to give subscriber data to police, national security agencies and the Competition Bureau without a warrant, including names, phone numbers and IP addresses. The part about being able to access that information without a warrant bothers privacy advocates, but Public Safety Minister Vic Toews says this is all necessary to protect against child pornography, and if one disagrees with the bill they are effectively on side with those who would want to exploit children. It's a heavy handed way to avoid real debate.

By making a forceful reference to the exploitation of children Toews has made it impossible to discuss this bill rationally and openly, since he's tied it to an issue which people are uniformly against. No matter what issues one might have with the wording of the bill, or its implications, the reaction from proponents of the legislation will bring up that one thing everyone can't argue against.

Instead of being a debate about how the legislation affects the basic rights of Canadians, it becomes about something entirely different, and it deflects attention away from any criticism people might have. While being able to gain information without a warrant worries some, it is an issue that is being effectively ignored.

The problem with a bill like this is it needs a mature, reasonable debate in order to reach a solution that can satisfy privacy advocates while simultaneously giving police more tools to deal with online crime. Since due process is a vital component of the justice system, any talk of giving expanded powers without a warrant is going to raise the ire of privacy advocates, but given the new and largely uncharted areas of online policing it's also going to be difficult to figure out just how to balance privacy and the need for law enforcement. Unfortunately, Toews has dashed any hopes of mature, reasonable debate by taking the largely immature step of tying anyone who disagrees with him to the lowest of the low. It's not a way to get people on board, and in some ways it feels as though he is attempting to hide some very real flaws.

At this point, it's clear that there is no longer any hope of a mature, reasonable debate, instead we're getting a party trying to hide behind an issue that is very emotional, banking on the fact that it's something nobody wants to argue against. It ignores the fact that this has much larger implications than that one crime, and that keeping things reasonable is the only way to get effective legislation. It's a move made through cowardice, rather than genuine concern.


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