Will anonymity and hyperlinks be illegal in Canada?

How an obscure provision in a Conservative crime bill could change the Internet in Canada

I’ve blogged before about Stephen Harper’s tough-guy campaign promise to bundle up and ram through a bunch of crime bills within 100 days of gaining his majority. One of the three bills he’s mushing together deals with online crime, focusing of course on the usual boogeymen: child porn and hate speech. I’ve pointed to one atrocious aspect therein—Lawful Access, which will allow police to demand all sorts of information about Canadians from their ISPs without having to bother with pesky warrants.

Here are two more reasons to be very concerned about/appalled with the upcoming legislation:

It can make linking illegal.

From the Library of Parliament’s legislative summary:

Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed… by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted.

That’s just stunningly ignorant. Let’s put aside the ridiculous leap of reason that equates linking to something with saying something, and instead direct our attention to the sheer stupidity of this law on technological grounds. Namely, we usually do not have control of the things we link to. They can change. So if something I link to later becomes “hate material” then I will suddenly be guilty of a hate crime. Any sound legal advice in a country where such a law exists would be to stop using hyperlinks entirely, as they present too great a liability. And that would sort of kind of make the Internet itself illegal.

It can make anonymity and pseudonyms illegal.

Here’s the Library of Parliament explaining a change from an earlier version of the bill:

…regarding the offences of sending a message in a false name (via) telegram, radio and telephone. Clause 11 of the bill amends those offences by removing the references to those specific communication technologies and, for some of those offences, substituting a reference to any means of telecommunication. As a result, it will be possible to lay charges in respect of those offences regardless of the transmission method or technology used.

Wow. No “false names” on the Internet (or through telegrams, which bothers me less). Real names only kids—that’ll thwart the perverts!

To be clear: I do not believe that the Harper government is plotting to criminalize the Internet itself. Hey, Lawful Access started as Liberal legislaion! But whoever wrote it, it’s a terrible and stupid piece of law, and one that would never have survived committee in one piece. But Stephen Harper has promised to ram this stuff through, and now he has the majority to do it.

Shouldn’t someone tell him what’s in there?

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