02/17/2012 11:39 EST | Updated 04/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Vic Toews: Twitter Posts On Divorce From Account Linked To Commons Prompt Public Safety Minister To Call For Investigation


OTTAWA - A Twitter account that posted personal information about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was apparently shut down Friday after sparking a political firestorm and triggered an investigation.

"I set up this project to make a point, not ensnare innocent people in a government witch hunt," said a post on the Twitter account Vikileaks30, which no longer exists according to the popular social media website.

Earlier Friday the Conservatives accused the NDP of being behind the online campaign, but the New Democrats denied the charge and called on the Tories to apologize.

The Twitter uproar prompted the Speaker of the House of Commons to look into an Ottawa Citizen report that the account is connected to a Commons Internet protocol address.

The newspaper said the same address is linked to updates in an online encyclopedia with NDP-friendly entries.

The Conservatives seized on the report to accuse the NDP of playing dirty politics.

"Not only have they stooped to the lowest of the lows, but they have been running this nasty Internet dirty-tricks campaign with taxpayers' money," said Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in question period.

A spokesman for Toews also said he's sending a letter to Speaker Andrew Scheer about the matter.

But the NDP said their own investigation shows the same IP address is linked to changes on dozens of other pages, including ones with ties to the Conservatives and the Liberals.

"This is not an NDP campaign," New Democrat MP Jack Harris said Friday.

A series of farewell postings by Vikileaks suggested the poster was not from Ottawa and that many people have access to the email address in question.

"You are showing the government that the people have the real power. Farewell," one of the final posts said.

Toews has been the target of an online campaign all week in connection with the introduction of a surveillance bill that gives police easier access to people's Internet lives.

Critics say it will give police agencies too much power to snoop and violate Canadians' privacy.

Vikileaks, which was set up this week, has been posting details from Toews' divorce, juxtaposing them with public statements he's made about family values.

The Ottawa Citizen linked the Twitter account to a Commons IP address by persuading the owner via email to click on a link set up by the paper. They were then able to trace the address of the user. But that only would have linked the use of the e-mail account to a Commons server, not the Twitter account itself.

IP addresses are unique labels assigned to computers to identify them on networks.

Large organizations such as Parliament often manage their networks using two sets of addresses to protect their computers behind a firewall.

Computers connecting to an internal network each have their own IP address but when they are connecting to the external Internet, they share a small set of the IP addresses.

It's akin to having a group of people at a house party designate one person to go out and buy a pizza, said digital public affairs strategist Mark Blevis.

One person gets the whole pizza at the restaurant, but inside the house everyone gets their own slice.

It will be possible for Commons technology staff to trace exactly which computer clicked on the link in the email sent by the Citizen.

But Liberal MP Wayne Easter said he wasn't sure any rules have actually been broken.

"I think what the whole issue shows as well is in the new technological age that we're in people not being required to sign their names to their points of view is a problem," he said.

He said anonymous comments online amount to almost a hate attack.

"I do think we've got to find ways to identify some of these anonymous folks that are basically producing hate in some fashion."

Blevis said anonymous tweeting to score points against a politician runs the risk of polluting the political process.

"Our political system and the ability for people to engage is dependent on people wanting to be part of the process," he said.

"And I think this kind of effort is very damaging to the political process and very damaging to democratic engagement. It's certainly not what we're accustomed to in Canadian politics."

The documents being posted by Vikileaks have been public for years but have never been published by media outlets.

Blevis suggested that while Vikileaks may be embarrassing to Toews, another simultaneous online campaign being run might be making a better protest about the bill.

In the last 24 hours, over 24,000 messages have been posted to Twitter using an identifier of #tellviceverything.

Users are mockingly pre-empting the supposed need for the bill by just telling Toews what they're doing.

"Just sent my mom an email, will you tell her I love her — I forgot to add it," wrote one user.

While Toews' reputation may have taken a bashing, it's also given him a moment of Internet stardom.

An online algorithm used to gauge social media standings suggests that Toews is currently more popular online than Treasury Board President Tony Clement, known as the "Minister of Twitter" for his use of social media.

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