Slacktivism defeats Lawful Access

Sometimes, staying at home in front the computer is the best thing you can do

There were no rallies against the Conservatives’ “Lawful Access” legislation. No marches, riots, demonstrations or happenings. Canadians who opposed the overreaching and wrongheaded online surveillance measures fought them (where else?) online.

Over 70,000 Canadians clicked to sign a “Stop Online Spying” petition posted by OpenMedia. Yesterday, the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill was introduced—a bundle of bills that had been assumed to include the new warrantless tracking measures. But Lawful Access was nowhere to be found.

OpenMedia quickly issued a press release claiming victory, and rightfully so. Despite a concerning lack of interest in the issue on the part of the mainstream media, OpenMedia successfully educated and activated tens of thousands of Canadians. Was their petition the reason the legislation was omitted? I suppose a letter sent last March signed by the provincial privacy commissioners, which cautioned the government about the invasive nature of the proposed laws may also have had an impact.

It’s also true that Internet service providers were less than thrilled about the prospect of building and maintaining the technical apparatus to constantly spy on their own customers. We may never know for certain what made Justice Minister Rob Nicholson think twice, but I’d hazard a guess that playing a major role in the decision was the prospect of facing down a growing horde of angry netizens, demanding answers to questions few aging legislators are equipped to answer. For example:

  • How can you assure us the tracking data will be safely stored when governments routinely lose and leak personal data?
  • Will the police access the data through a web portal? If so, what happens when it gets hacked?
  • Will the police be allowed to build software “bots” that crawl through our data looking for suspicious online activity?

Better to simply wipe the digitally illiterate laws from the bundled bill than stand accountable for such poorly conceived policy. Lawful Access may very well return unbundled as its own separate bill. If so, those emboldened by their effectiveness so far in fighting it will surely pounce on the wounded legislation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing just quietly goes away.

Think about it: 70,000 Canadians signed an online petition against Lawful Access, and we don’t yet have Lawful Access. Around 100,000 Canadians joined a Facebook group against a backwards Copyright reform bill, and we don’t yet have backwards Copyright reform. Almost half a million Canadians signed a petition against wholesale usage-based billing, and we don’t have that either.

The ethereal nature of these protests may be the key to their success. Their message to legislators is simple: thousands of Canadians are against what you’re doing. Right now they are angry in their homes, at their computers. Proceed and they may be angry at your door, or at the polls.

Considering its effectiveness, maybe it’s time to think of a more respectful term for online political engagement than “Slacktivism”.




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Slacktivism defeats Lawful Access

  1. Maybe if we had something to join…like the Pirate Party?

    What happened to THAT thread?

  2. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Don’t Prorogue Facebook page and… oh, drat.

    • Perfect rebuttal.

      • Not really.  In that case, Harper had more to lose if he didn’t prorogue.  He was going to save his skin no matter what the cost.

        • That’s exactly the point.  Jesse’s arguing that these ephemeral campaigns cause decisions to change because that’s what the CPC sees as saving their skins.

          Unless there was some massive campaign *to* prorogue that I didn’t see, Jesse’s logic would suggest that the Don’t Prorogue campaign would have made them worry about the outcome of the next election if they prorogued.  Since they were without any sort of guarantee that another election wouldn’t be happening soon whether they prorogued or not, if Jesse’s argument held any water, they would have been scared of doing it and so not done it.

          • I’m not sure if I entirely agree with your logic.  If he didn’t prorogue, the government would have, without a doubt, fallen and quite likely been turned over to a coalition.  It was a very calculated move and it clearly worth the risk.  Let his government fall or buy some time to do damage control.  It would take a whole helluva lot more than 100,000 Facebook signatures to change his mind there.

            In this case, he can’t lose the government.  But, the potential fallout from a poorly thought out piece of legislation (let’s face it, Lawful Access is ridiculous) wasn’t worth the risk at this point in his plan.  I have no doubt that it’ll surface again.  Just not in it’s current form.  Is that a win for the “slacktivists?”  We’ll just have to see how this particular story ends.  

            Comparing the work of OpenMedia.ca to that of a Facebook group isn’t really fair either.  These organizers are much more engaged with the media and our elected officials than that.  Facebook is but one tool that they use.

  3. By your logic, I could claim this rock keeps tigers away. I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

    • Can I borrow your rock? I am being attacked by tigers. 

    • Well, the rock / tiger example is cute, but it in no way relates to the article above.  Notta.  Zilch.  Only in our outrageously cynical political climate could you think that tens of thousands of people signing a petition has as much relevance to action as the rock to the lack of tigers.

      • There’s no evidence that the online petition had anything to do with removing those provisions from the bill as introduced, is the problem; there isn’t even any evidence that the minister, the PM or anyone else in cabinet were even aware of it. 

        Show me a government press release or even a leaked memo from Justice saying that it made a difference and I’ll believe the connection. I agree that it’s a good thing if they’ve decided to scrap the spying plan altogether, but I don’t see how you can draw any conclusion right now other than that it’s just not a part of this particular omnibus bill.

        • These Conservatives would never do anything of the like. Like the Chretien Liberals, compromise = weakness. If the online petition did influence them, these folks would never, ever let on. 

          That being said, your original point does have merit. 

          • I have this suspicion that looking for evidence of awareness in this government will be a futile task.  Awareness of anything, really.

            I will be selling fragments of this rock on EBay.  Subject to 13% HST in Ontario, of course.

        • But the article explicitly recognizes that the online activity might not be the reason reason that Lawful Access legislation was missing from the omnibus crime bill.  It then goes on the list several other instances of slacktivism… but it doesn’t claim that they were each *the* reason that corresponding legislation didn’t come to pass, rather, it suggests that slacktivism might deserve more credit that it generally gets.   I’m not claiming that the rock keeps tigers away, I’m saying the article is explicitly about a correlation, which the author clearly doesn’t mistake for proof of a causal relationship.  (No doubt, the tone of my initial reply was unnecessary – apologies).

  4. The more correct and flattering term they’re looking for is INTERACTIVISM.  It’s more efficient and therefore potentially MORE active than older forms of activism.

  5. Riiiiight,  The Conservative government, with no viable political opposition, years away from another election, got cold feet on Bills they’re previously introduced three times, and that the Liberals introduced themselves once, because of an online petition.  Wait until late October when the Bills are reintroduced unchanged from previous versions.  The self-righteous slackers won’t be so smug then.

  6. I wonder if members of the governing caucus thought about the fact that it’d be hypocritical to want to spy on Canadians’ online activity– after canceling the long-form census for being too invasive of peoples’ privacy… 

  7. We’re also extremely angry about this gov’t's. latest attacks on the CBC.  See http://taholtorf.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/friends-of-the-cbc-why-we-urgently-need-to-raise-32000/
    for details of new and concerted assaults on our public broadcaster.  

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