Lawful Access: Online Surveillance Bill Teaches Tories Tough Social-Media Lesson

First Posted: 02/15/2012 6:43 pm Updated: 02/16/2012 4:38 pm

Lawful Access Canada Online Spying
Social-media networks and comment pages exploded Wednesday in opposition to the Harper government's introduction of Bill C-30, which would give police and spies easier access to information about Internet users. The centrepiece of the campaign was an anonymous Twitter account purporting to leak details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' divorce records. (CP/AFP Getty Images)

OTTAWA - In their tough-on-crime approach to legislation, the Conservatives are learning a tough lesson.

Mess with the Internet and it's going to mess with you.

Social-media networks and comment pages exploded Wednesday in opposition to the Harper government's introduction of Bill C-30, which would give police and spies easier access to information about Internet users.

And the centrepiece of the campaign was an anonymous Twitter account purporting to leak details of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' divorce records.

TWITTER REACTS TO ATTACK ON TOEWS

"Vic wants to know about you. Let's get to know about Vic," wrote @vikileaks before beginning an information dump that also juxtaposed details about the minister's home life with his public comments on family values.

Within hours, the account had over 3,000 followers and inspired hundreds of comments, photo collages and jokes.

Toews was quick to condemn the posts.

"I won't get involved in this kind of gutter politics," he said on his own Twitter account, which has a fraction of the followers of his anonymous attacker.

"Engaging in or responding to this kind of discussion leads nowhere."

Public court records of Toews' divorce have been available for several years, but no major news organizations have pursued the story.

Online campaigns against legislation have been successful in the past, albeit not one that tackled a minister's personal life.

Last year, the Conservatives ordered the CRTC to review a decision on usage-based billing on the Internet after then-Industry Minister Tony Clement's email and Twitter account were flooded with complaints.

In the United States, a massive online campaign against what was known as the Stop Online Piracy Act saw legislators back down and make changes.

The Conservatives are styling Bill C-30 as a law to protect children from online predators, but privacy advocates and opposition MPs say it's far too broad.

Among other provisions, it would allow authorities access to Internet subscriber information — including name, address, telephone number and email address — without first getting a court's go-ahead.

Currently, it is voluntary for Internet service providers to hand such data to police.

The Canadian legislation spurred a "Don't Toews Me Bro" campaign to unite all opposition to the bill under a single banner.

It's a play on the sound of Toews' name and a catchphrase that developed after a Florida student yelled it while being hit with a Taser by police five years ago.

Social media users quickly adopted the phrase to append to messages about the bill.

FUNNIEST #DontToewsMeBro AND #TellVicEverything TWEETS

And a former Green party candidate created a website with the same name, calling for a write-in campaign against the bill for next Tuesday, which he has styled as "Toewsday."

The Conservatives have already indicated they're feeling the heat on the bill, appearing open Wednesday to amendments.

Some opposition MPs, while blistering in their criticism of the proposed law, were uncertain whether disclosing Toews' personal court files was appropriate response.

"Yeah, it’s a complicated world we're living in now with social media. We are public figures, yes. We are holding ourselves out there as public figures, yes," said NDP MP Megan Leslie.

"Sometimes, there are court documents that are public documents, yes. But I don't know if it’s appropriate to be leaking them line by line on Twitter. It seems a little bit invasive."

NDP Charlie Angus said he didn't need to know anything about Toews' personal life.

"I think his public life is problematic enough for Canadians," Angus said.

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  • What's In Online-Snooping Bill

    Like similar legislation introduced in the past by both Conservative and Liberal governments, the new bill includes provisions that would: <em>With files from CBC</em> (Shutterstock)

  • Warantless Online Info

    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. (CP)

  • Back Door Access

    Force internet providers and other makers of technology to provide a "back door" to make communications accessible to police. (Getty)

  • Location, Location, Location

    Allow police to get warrants to obtain information transmitted over the internet and data related to its transmission, including locations of individuals and transactions. (Alamy)

  • Preserve Data

    Allow courts to compel other parties to preserve electronic evidence. (Alamy)

  • New Bill Is Different

    However, unlike the most recent previous version of the bill, the new legislation: (Alamy)

  • Less Data

    Requires telecommunications providers to disclose, without a warrant, just six types of identifiers from subscriber data instead of 11. (Alamy)

  • Oversight

    Provides for an internal audit of warrantless requests that will go to a government minister and oversight review body. Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews is pictured. (CP)

  • Review After 5 Years

    Includes a provision for a review after five years. (Alamy)

  • More Time To Implement

    Allows telecommunications service providers to take 18 months instead of 12 months to buy equipment that would allow police to intercept communications. (Alamy)

  • Expanded Definitions

    Changes the definition of hate propaganda to include communication targeting sex, age and gender. (Alamy)

FUNNIEST #DontToewsMeBro AND #TellVicEverything TWEETS

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  • Twitter Reacts To Vikileaks Resignation And Tory Online Surveillance Bill

    UPDATE: On Monday Feb. 27, Liberal leader acknowledged that a Liberal staffer was behind the Vikileaks30 Twitter account that released information about Vic Toews' divorce. That person has been fired and Rae has apologized to the House Of Commons. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews faced an online backlash due to his championing of Bill C-30, the lawful access bill. Two hashtags, <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23donttoewsmebro -rt" target="_hplink">#donttoewsmebro</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23TellVicEverything" target="_hplink">#tellviceverything</a> became the vocal points of internet humour and commentary. Photo: CP

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TWITTER REACTS TO ATTACK ON TOEWS

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Filed by Michael Bolen  |