The Internet is the opposition

Teh Internets have been saying one and the same thing about Vic Toews’ Lawful Access



In today’s National Post, Andrew Coyne ponders the sudden “hysteria” that has erupted around Vic Toews’ Lawful Access legislation. Why has this Internet snooping bill suddenly inspired so much debate, controversy and activity, when a near-identical version introduced in 2005 by the Liberals was barely discussed?

After considering all possibilities, Coyne nails it: it’s the Internet, stupid. But here’s what he gets wrong: “The Internet” does not exist. Teh Internets (sic) do. Coyne considers the value of “the online community as a political force.” Interchangeably, he refers to this community as “anonymous… digital vigilantes.”

Let’s clear things up: There is no single “online community.” One hundred thousand people signed OpenMedia’s petition against Lawful Access. Thousands of people took part in the lighthearted #TellVicEverything and #DontToewsMeBro Twitter memes. The controversial Vikileaks Twitter account was likely the work of one individual. When the National Post reports that the “hacker group” Anonymous has posted a video ultimatum to Vic Toews, demanding that he resign and that Lawful Access be scrapped, it leaves unmentioned the fact that OperationVicTory could very well be the work of one individual Anon.

Meanwhile, there are other Internets. There are the listeners of my niche digital policy podcast Search Engine, who have been discussing Lawful Access since our third episode in 2007 (when the public safety minister at the time, Stockwell Day, promised that the Tories had no interest in warrantless surveillance and never would). There are the thousands of visitors to Michael Geist’s blog, where this legislation has been discussed in detail for longer still. There are the readers of online news sources like Macleans.ca.

Combined, they are the Internet. Which is to say, none of the above alone are the Internet. Which is to say, “the Internet ” is becoming a useless term. Coyne derides online activists who claim to represent ‘the public.’ He’s right—no one group can make that claim. The public is not a monolith. It is the aggregate of all voices calm and urgent, active and casual, educated and emotional. Usually the public is saying many things at once. But now and then, it says the same thing all together. In these moments, we learn that the real majority and the real opposition are one and the same.

This is no hysteria. This is the public saying “no,” any and every way it can.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown


The Internet is the opposition

  1. Commenting on AC’s work isn’t the same as publishing it.  But what can you do?

    And is “Teh Internets” supposed to refer to something or is it just a typo?

    • Teh Internets is a slang term used in geek circles to denote the wider internet. It’s generally considered derogatory as it points to incorrect usage (plural Internet) and unable/unwilling to correct mistakes (Teh).

      Basically, it’s like “the unwashed masses”  — no single entity, but all alike in some manner.

      • Talk about sticking it to teh man, eh?    

    •  except it doesnt’ bark like a trained seal.

  2. Right on Jesse, right on!

    Cheers, PK

  3. Well said, Jesse.

  4. Whatever the Libs were supposedly bringing in didn’t matter as they were losing the election, and people didn’t care…so there is no point is saying ‘they did it first’

    Plus there is the oddity in this country that people trust the Libs more than the current incarnation of Cons. Probably because Libs have run the country for 70% of it’s existence, and we’ve never had to worry about the weird and dangerous things the Cons keep coming up with….torture, prisons, enemies lapping at our shores’….this strange paranoia where everybody for any number of reasons is distrusted, treasonous, criminal and always a possible ‘enemy of the state’…and we all know what happens to people suddenly reclassified as ‘enemies of the state’.

    ‘Teh internets’ is just a new way for people to speak out, and even take effective action….and while you can find a multitude of ideas, hates, loves, directions and topics on the web……the users do come together on some things, and privacy/freedom is definitely one of them.

    Heavy-handed govt….that doesn’t begin to understand the tech….has now managed to make heroes out of hackers, pirates, and leakers.

    People were ‘with the govt’ when they moved to reduce spam and malware….but now the govt has become the enemy….and they did it to themselves.

    • If you hate Canada so much why don’t you make everyone happy and strangle yourself with your pen!s.

      • Everyone is entitled to voice an opinion. What is it with you people? Can’t tolerate dissent? Remember, the emperor has no clothes.

        • He certainly chose the right name to post under!

      • If you actually meant ‘perl’ and then pluralized it (like, oh, say, ‘internetz’), you are a hilarious genius, If not…oh, well.

  5. Given the successful terrorist/child pornography take downs over the years, I can only see two options. The police/security services have been conducting surveillance anyway, or Vic is misleading , over stating (spinning/l___g) the problem. Either on is a possibility.

    •  I think this is more about them coming up with an office of copyright enforcement that can wholesale get the names and subscriber information of those who share files online.

      Don’t forget, by this time next year there will be people all over the place getting 5k fines for sharing videos and movies. RIAA and MPAA are who are after this data.

      • Agree 100%  

      • So that’s why the Competition Bureau would be authorized to use the new access?

  6. “Usually the public is saying many things at once.”

    Don’t get too excited about what happened last week- public was saying multiple things last week but you are only focused on people who use twitter.  Government regulating the internet more than it does now is popular with many people (not me tho). I would be amazed if Twitter reaction had anything at all to do with Cons rethinking their plans with C-30 – I assume economic conservatives, classic liberals, libertarians who support Cons let their views be known.

     For as long as humanity has existed we have been squabbling amongst ourselves who lives in reality, and who’s crazy, and we still are if you look beyond Twitter. To me, Twitter brings the mythical ‘tim horton conversations’ to wider public. Internet is tool that allows people to voice their opinions to whoever cares to read.

  7. Does anyone else find it interesting — just interesting, not a conspiracy or anything — that Justin Trudeau grew the same facial hair for movember as the  “anonymous” masks?

    No?  Just me again?

    • My facial hair always looks like my facial hair. Sometimes I wash my face and can’t do a thing with it.

    • I’d actually noticed the same thing also.

      • It’s no coincidence Guy Fawkes day falls in Movember.

  8. I oppose this legislation, and I’ve used the internet to voice my concerns. I’ve also published an op-ed in an actual dead tree newspaper.

    The internet has been a useful tool for research, and for raising concerns about the bill. But there has been a downside, too. While there are lots of problems with the bill, a great deal of discussion and opposition to the bill has been to things that are not in the bill (eg. the government will be able to read your email without a warrant). The huge and rapid echo chamber of the internet can spread misinformation as quickly as it can mobilize people around an issue, and you can quickly find yourself in the midst of a false debate. The rapid pace of this issue over the last week has even seen mainstream media report things that are not true. Retweets and media covering other media’s reports continue to reinforce misinformation. I believe most of this is inadvertent, but it hurts the debate.

    Even the Liberal Party’s online petition repeats the false claim that “Stephen Harper’s people would now have the legal right to monitor your emails and track your every move online without any kind of judicial oversight.” Is that a misunderstanding on their part (they should know better), or are they deliberately leveraging the misinformation they know is out there?

    When so much of the opposition to the bill is based on a mixture of fact and fiction, the credibility of the opposition is weakened. It becomes easier for the politicians to dismiss the volume of opposition as uninformed.

    What this debate needs is for everyone to take a deep breath, get the facts, and review the policy in a mature, informed and non-partisan way. The surveillance by design implications of this bill are too important to be decided in a rapid, overheated, ill informed yelling match.

    Oh, and also, I’d like a pony.

    •  Actually, the bill does allow the government to read your email without a warrant, as long as your ISP/Telco divulges the information voluntarily (which they are required to be able to get, by the bill)–you still have no say in the matter one way or the other, of course. And the ISP/Telco is immune to legal liability for doing so, but are, in principle, allowed to refuse unless a warrant is provided.

      Michael Geist discusses this issue and points out the relevant statutes here:

    • Hey, the Minister doesn’t even know what’s in the bill.  If the Committee is allowed to do it’s work all of this will come out.  We need to hear from legal and tech experts. 

    • I think this is a case of the Conservatives getting ‘Permanent-tax-on-everything’ed. They deliberately spread misinformation to muddy policy discussions in the past as a matter of expediency. I won’t shed any tears for them when this political climate results in blowback. Perhaps the misinformation campaign means is justified by the ends of killing an unjust bill.

    • Your rant against misinformation contains a lot of misinformation.

  9. I think Jesse Brown should give Andrew Coyne a little slack.  Coyne is now working at the National Post and judging by anything else one sees in that publication, working there certainly does bias journalist’s thinking.  Perhaps it is because NP considers itself a contract propaganda department for the PMO. 

    However, I think Jesse has missed something as well.  The big difference in the debate about internet surveillance this time around, is that it is being promoted by the Harperites.  There are a great many Canadians who just do not trust this government as far as they can throw them, especially with easy access to their private personal information. 

    • “especially with easy access to their private personal information” Are these the same people who were screaming bloody murder at the modifications to the long form census? Which were, if I remember correctly, done to preserve personally privacy?

      • Although it’s possible there may be some overlap,  people who were in favour of screwing the census were generally clueless and the people who oppose the anti-privacy bill are not.   Drawing a comparison between the two would be unwise; thinking it “scores”a “point” would be foolhardy.

      • You do understand the difference between the long-form census, distributed randomly, and directed targeting, yes?

        • ANONYMIZED long form census!

          • Actually, it’s not.  Both long and short forms requested the names of everyone in the household and the last question was whether the person would consent to their information being released in 100 years, and the reason given was for genealogical research.  So the name data is being kept and presumably could be tied to the rest of the record somehow.

            That said, there were no attempts to verify the names or ages given.

          • Anonymized for all practical uses, then, and stored only on paper, none of which is true of the current bill (I am sure we agree).

          • Huh. I never thought of that. They might never enter the names into any sort of database but just keep the original forms. I have to admit, I was (very) slightly concerned about how we were gathering names that would be released after a century — because as pointed out, leaks happen — but your idea makes sense, and hopefully that’s what they’re doing.

      • You didn’t actually fall for that privacy concern nonsense on the census,  did you? 

        • He’s a staunch Harperista who hasn’t yet shown even one neutrino of doubt or criticism about Steve.

          • But he presents himself as such a smart guy…

      • No, you don’t remember correctly.  The mandatory long-form was eliminated in order to sabotage empirical data – the enemy of ideologues.

    • And the repeated lies/truthiness that so glibly slips from the lips of the Con caucus.

  10. Andrew Coyne…. I hate to say it, but what a joke. As much as I appreciated some of his work @Maclean’s, it became very much clear that his interpretation of what constitutes as news (specifically pertaining to tech) is very antiquated and very much limited by his privileged (and therefore quite different from ordinary Canadians) background. Prior to both you and Nowak, this publication had zero coverage of tech issues, and the politics behind them. As you have mentioned Jesse – there have been people talking about these issues for some time, but sadly journalists like Coyne have put little effort in actually educating the public.

  11. “This is the public saying “no,” any and every way it can.”

    You’re falling into a little trap yourself, in referring to “the public.”  Not every member of the public opposes this bill–I don’t, for one, so where do I fit in your definition of “the public”?

    • I preferred the “silent” marjority

      • We are anonymous and we are legion!

        • Wait until they start tracing those mask sales…

          • They could have a mask registry.

    • Somewhat like when Steve deigns to speak on behalf of me — not!

  12. Its funny how the author of this article. Agrees that quote on quote “no one group can make that claim” as said author refers to one group representing the public.

    Ask yourself this question , what is the government then?

  13. People really should trust Statistics Canada a lot more than whoever the hell the Minister of Defense thinks should be able to access your private information. Guaranteed some pimple-faced 23 year old partisan operative will be empowered to make inquiries for any reason they deem acceptable.

    • “JImmy, as Minister, under section 33, Bill C-30, I hereby deem thee an inspector. Roust Telus and get me the deets on Andrew_notPorC, wouldja? Then hand it all over to Privy. Also, get some clearasil.”

  14. Why didn’t the citizenry rise up when the Liberals suggested this? Hmm, let’s see …
    Did Anne McLellan call anyone with concerns a child pornographer? Did the Liberal Government hold a technical briefing for MPs without the legislation available? Was it a government with a history of using social media and the Worldwide Web to publicly smear its critics? A governement that had just scrapped the census and gun registration because of supposed intrusion into Canadian’s privacy? Was the minister obviously unaware of the content of her own legislation?
    What Coyne calls “hysteria” is actually outrage at the offensive hypocrisy and ineptitude of the Conservatives. It’s remarkable that a recently elected majority is less trusted than a government that was on its way out the door. The Conservatives only have themselves to blame for any suspicion directed at them. 

  15. Sometimes reading these comments I wonder who has actually looked at the legislation and who has not. Because I honestly feel if more people, including “the media” as well as “teh internets”, posted in clear language to the public what the legislation is asking for, then people would be able to make a more informed decision on the matter.

    The root of the legislation is to allow the police the ability to, using someone’s public IP address, obtain the following without a warrant – your name, your address, your email address, your phone number. 

    Indeed, as someone else posted – today they can certainly obtain all this information – BUT with a warrant. 

    The real problem with this legislation is this – to anyone who is web-savvy, it is plainly obvious that it is of ZERO USE in tracking actual criminals, who will always be routing their IP through some other country and thus not be subject to this law. The only people it will be of any use for is tracking non-criminals, and expanding police powers in order to classify more people as criminals who would otherwise not be classified as such – so then, what is the real goal here? Is it to catch predators, or expand police powers? If you actually want to catch predators, it is pretty simple to do, as Chris Hanson has illustrated. If they can catch one on a routine weekly basis for a TV show and the police themselves can not do it, something strange is going on here.

  16. This is what happens when an extreme right wing fascist is elected into power. Laws like this are passed.

  17. It was just as odious when McLellan trial-ballooned it. The ‘you’re with us or you’re with the child pornographers’ just upped the odious dial to 11. That and the clever last-minute rename, er…’branding’… to win hearts and influence minds. Oh, and was it ever actually introduced under the Liberals?

  18. Look, if you’re going to base a lengthy blog post on the premise that Andrew Coyne “gets it wrong”, it would be better if, you know, he actually DID “get it wrong”.

    I read and re-read Coyne’s piece and nowhere in it does he say anything that supports your assertion that he doesn’t understand “teh Internets”.  It is particularly silly for you to use his phrase “online community” in support of your point that “(t)here is no single online community”.  Of course there is a single “online community” – it is the community made up of everybody who is online.  The fact that this “community” has hundreds of diverse “neighbourhoods” isn’t germane to Coyne’s very basic point that the most fervent opposition to Bill C-30 is emanating from this “community”, which is indisputable.

    Your overall point seems to be that Coyne’s piece is flawed because he explains the difference between the current response to C-30 and the responses to previous like legislation by painting the current vociferous opponents with the same brush.  Except he doesn’t.

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