Everyone these days seems to be talking and writing about Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. This bill, in fact, picks up where a previous Liberal government left off. The bill would create a law that would give police tremendous “snooping powers,” allowing them to identify the user of an IP address, track his or her browsing history, etc. without so much as a warrant.
Public Safety minister Vic Toews made a tactical mistake when he countered criticism from the opposition by saying that opponents of the bill are in cahoots with the pedophiles of the world. That comment was certainly over the top, as not everyone looking for more privacy is necessarily trying to hide illicit or illegal activity.
Still, I think the opposition, and many members of the general public, are making a mountain out of a molehill. Haven’t we all given up on our online privacy already?
It’s actually quite easy to track and identify someone online (say, an individual who harasses you online), and I have absolutely no issue with the police or other authorities doing just that, even without a warrant, if it means that they can catch a bad guy (pedophile, spammer or anyone else committing criminal acts online, including criminal libel).
Personally, I have always found outrage at such privacy issues to be anything but genuine. After all, many of those who scream about Facebook or any other outfit that supposedly violates users’ privacy are usually the same ones who will post every single personal detail, complete with pictures or precise GPS coordinates of their whereabouts. People have had their houses broken into after informing the world that they were out shopping or off to a restaurant.
If I wanted to protect my privacy online, frankly, I’d have to stay off the Internet and grid entirely. Unfortunately, this is not an option for most of us. But I think I’m doing better than most users. For starters, I don’t announce my current location through the virtual bullhorns of Facebook or other social media like FourSquare. When I find myself in a restaurant or in a store, I don’t share that information with millions of other people in real time. The only ones who know that I’m there are the other people in the establishment – and lo and behold, not everyone in such a location recognizes me from my online column or from TV. So, my privacy is quite intact, thank you very much.
What may cause me some concern, however, is the sharing of personal information by commercial outfits. The police can access my files at any time; I have nothing to hide. But a company shouldn’t play fast and loose with its customers’ personal information.
Case in point: Amazon. Just recently, I discovered a new feature in my Amazon profile. Under newspaper subscriptions (for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader), Amazon now informs the user that his or her name and address information (taken from the user’s credit card) are being shared with the newspaper publishers. While the user can edit that status, thus withholding the information from the publisher, it requires an active input from the user first, because Amazon shares that information by default.
Even worse is the fact that Amazon must have been doing that all along, but never bothered to inform its users about this until recently.
Scenarios like these should make us scream and point fingers at companies that disrespect consumers’ privacy in such blatant fashion. But the police or other authorities merely doing their job of finding criminals (and, yes, that includes illegal downloaders of music or other copyrighted content) don’t bother me one bit.
Moving in online space is like navigating a public space. Thus, there can’t be any expectation of privacy. If the police catch you in the act of committing a crime in a public area, they can arrest you without a warrant. The same is, or should be, true of the online world.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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