Asper Panel: Bills C-46 & C-47, Overdue Update or Big Brother?

Thursday, Feb 25, 2010 7:30 pm
William Barnes

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights held a panel today on bills C-46 and C-47, which were introduced into the House of Commons in the last session and would have made it easier for police to get access to ISP subscriber data. The panelists were Prof. David Murakami Wood (Queens), Prof. Lisa Austin (UofT), and Robert Hubbard (Crown Law Office – Criminal). The panel was moderated by Graeme Norton (CCLA).

Graeme Norton began with a quick overview of the relevant changes in the two bills. Bill C-46 would grant three powers to the police: an order requiring an ISP to preserve data (including usage and location where applicable) on a subscriber; an order requiring the ISP to turn over the data; access to real time usage data. It is important that the first two orders would be available on reasonable suspicion rather than the higher standard of reasonable and probable grounds. Bill C-47 would allow the police to obtain subscriber information (including name, phone number, address, IP address, mobile phone identifiers) from a telecommunications provider without a warrant.

David Wood views the bills as part of a larger movement to expand the definition of lawful access and determine who has control over data about individuals. We should think about the effect of our policy choices on other jurisdictions (where one country goes, others follow). He then considered regimes being put in place in other countries, placing particular emphasis where these measures were forced through despite significant opposition.

In the EU, the European Parliament is considering mandating that telecommunications companies retain traffic data (source, destination, date, duration, type) for all subscribers. The measure is being defended as necessary for security, but was raised as a commercial regulation issue. In the EU, security bills must be passed unanimously while commercial regulation bills need only a simple majority. The bill is opposed by Germany and Sweden. In Sweden itself, the police have warrantless access to international phone calls, faxes, and emails. Contrary to Swedish practice (bills are worked until there is consensus) this bill was pushed through on a slight majority (141-138, I beleive). In the UK, the government already has access to a large amount of data on its citizens. It is currently promoting a bill that will grant police access to social networking and online gaming data (at significant costs). 40% of UK citizens consulted were totally opposed (more were moderately or slightly opposed). Brazil has placed monitoring provisions inside omnibus bills intending to combat child pornography, cyber warfare, and cyber crime.

In Canada, the government points to all these developments as support for its policies. It says the measures are needed to comply with international obligations and to compete globally. Norton concluded by stating that this will lead to a chilling effect (citizens will be nervous about legal activities online) and there is a fine line between that and overt censorship. Lawful access silences debate and turns the Internet into just another broadcast channel like television.

Robert Hubbard disagreed with Norton. The legislation is no different from any other criminal legislation that touches on the privacy interest. With only one exception, the legislation requires a warrant. This is the approach taken by all other similar laws. Further, the trends globally are relevant because s. 1 of the Charter requires us to have regard to other free and democratic societies. Canada is actually far behind the curve in tackling this issue. The US and Australia, for example, have had lawful access legislation for over a decade. The United States has spent 15 years requiring telecommunications companies to create the infrastructure to provide access. Canadian companies usually follow the same procedures and use the same technology as American companies and now have all the infrastructure necessary. Canada is just recognizing that fact. Canada is out of step with international expectations, modern technology, and modern society. This legislation fixes that and all it says is go to a judge and get an order for the information.

Lisa Austin took a middle ground between the above positions. Austin said the issue is justification. The Privacy Commissioner has stated that nobody has even attempted to demonstrate that the current system does not meet the needs of law enforcement. There is no need for the increased powers, but this type of legislation keeps getting introduced, why? It used to be about terrorism, then about child pornography, but it is far too broad to really be about addressing these extraordinary crimes. What bothers Austin is the increasing collaboration between public and private actors to track citizens. So much of our daily activities are mediated by these communications companies, they have the ability to track our every move. The legislation is justified in part by the fact that courts already allow the police access to much of this information. However, the reasoning is problematic. The current trend is to justify it based on user agreements which contain provisions allowing the service providers to turn over the information. This is not right: nobody reads those agreements and the terms are non-negotiable. The options to stay offline and not have a telephone are not real options. Should our constitutional rights really be trumped by provisions inserted into contracts by commercial entities looking to avoid liability?

I largely agree with Professor Austin (and not just because she will be grading my essays). I do think that some legislation is necessary. There is a slight inconsistency in arguing that the legislation is not necessary under current law and also that the current law is wrong (though the two points may not actually be connected in Austin’s argument). I have serious misgivings about the contractual argument that is being used to justify handing over this information. Like every Canadian who has ever signed a cell phone contract, I know the terrible frustration and powerlessness one feels when presented with these contracts. The Charter should not be overcome merely by a corporation inserting a provision allowing the government to violate it. But at the same time, the police do need access in these cases. There merely needs to be limits, oversight, and accountability.

People have fought against national ID cards and mandatory fingerprinting for years. This is no different. Absolutely everything you do online has your IP address or email attached to it, but you can be anonymous because it is generally difficult to connect an individual to those piece of information. Any one of the pieces of subscriber information (name, phone, email, IP, etc) is not very revealing, but the fact that they all represent a single person is extremely revealing. It’s not too much to ask that in the majority of cases where time is not an issue the police should have to go to court to get this information (and then leave a loophole for emergencies).

Project management

Friday, Jul 10, 2009 7:00 am
William Barnes

I always have trouble keeping organized when I’m doing a research project. Particularly if that project requires me to consult many sources and particularly if those sources are in different media. So I figured that the research it would take to write an article on research would help me. This article will cover different methods of keeping track of all your sources while researching and writing. This might be the first of a few articles.

Low-tech

I have always wanted a large whiteboard on the wall that I could just scribble notes on. It would be like an HUD such that I can always just glance at my outline without having to shift focus on the computer. Given the layout of my office at the moment, I would have to take down my weaponry display to do it. There are a few options. You could always buy a ready-made whiteboard somewhere, but that is potentially expensive. For a wall mounted whiteboard, a better option would probably be to build your own. There are instructions online for building a nice looking whiteboard for under $50 using the waterproof melamine boards that line some showers. There are also whispered rumours of a paint that can be directly applied to your wall. But if you read the comments on that article, there is one very negative review of the inexpensive dry-erase paint. Might not be worth the risk. It could also be done using plastic: paint a section of your wall white and stretch plastic over it. I’ve heard that vapour barrier (the plastic that goes between pink insulation and drywall) works well and is cheap. The plastic will eventually get stained by the markers, but it’s cheap enough that you can just pull it down and replace it. I found a list of different materials that can be used to create your own whiteboard; including different types of plastic. Finally, this is really not low-tech but it’s just so cool: use a Wii-remote and a projector to make an interactive whiteboard.

The whiteboard is great for outlining and keeping track of a to-do list, but it doesn’t actually organize anything. I always put all my loose print material in a three-ring binder with tabs marking different items and post-its to mark important sections. You could use file folders, but then you’d also have to remember to put things back which is much harder than it sounds. The binder is probably ideal because it’s neat, easily portable, and simple to put away if you need to store it for a while.

Firefox

logo-only-preview

It’s bad for the trees to print everything and I like trees ’cause they make oxygen, so I’m guessing we need electronic solutions. I like opening a lot of tabs. I wrote a bookmarklet to rename tabs to make it easier to find a specific tab when you have many open. It’s a start but it could be improved. I like the thumbnail idea above, but it’s no good when you have a lot of pages open from the same site. I was thinking that a tab browser that shows an excerpt from the page might be more useful. While reading a tab, you could select text to add to the excerpt. Then you just press a button and a formatted list of all your tabs is shown with the excerpts of text. It would allow you more space per tab and show more information than the tab bar does at present. It could perhaps integrate into the bookmark database to store your excerpts for later. Definitely, you need a solution for storing the things you find for later.

You could just bookmark everything. Bookmarks don’t really work though. The titles are generally non-descriptive (though you can edit the title when adding the bookmark). The bookmark menu is awkward. You only have one line of text to describe a site. Bookmark Previews is an extension that adds thumbnail previews to the bookmark organizer. This has potential as you often recognize a site faster by its design than by the title (titles are often pretty similar). Still, I need a better way to store information that is more than just a link to a page.

Evernote

evernote

Evernote is a really neat service that lets you store notes online. You can submit notes by email (from your cellphone), Firefox extensions or using one of their applications. You can even email photos and they will run text recognition software on the image so you can search for text in your picture notes. For example, you can send a photo of a business card from your mobile phone and later search for that person’s name and their business card will show up. It is also good for online research. There is a Firefox extension that allows you to clip sections of a webpage and add them to your online notebook. Later on you can search for phrases or quotes in these clips.

They provide a web app that you can access from anywhere and very nice applications for MacOS, Windows, iPhone, Blackberry, etc. I keep forgetting I have it, but one day I will attempt to use it for an article and write a real review. The free version lets you upload 40MB of notes per month (a few hundred camera phone photos, thousands of web clips) and for $5 you can get 400MB/mo and a few other extra features.

Backpack

logo_backpack-full

Backpack is another online service for collecting notes. You can create a page for your project and add todo lists and notes. There are bookmarklets that allow you to post clips from websites. It’s much lighter weight than Evernote but it’s also lighter featured. There’s no text recognition. But maybe that isn’t a problem for you. I think the free account is too limited to be really useful but it’s free so there’s no harm in trying it out and seeing if you like it. $7 per month.

Snipd

snipd

Better than Backpack is Snipd. Snipd let’s you copy (unlimited) web clips for free. You can copy text and images (but there’s no text recognition). You could easily clip and store entire cases. You would then be able to easily search your collection for a specific word or phrase. It does not, however, offer any way to organize your clips. It could potentially get pretty crowded. But if you find Evernote too heavy, Snipd may be a decent alternative.

Other stuff

These are just the things I was aware of before I started writing this. I really need to find a system that works well for me, so I’ll probably be trying out more services and adding more to this list throughout the summer.

Dropbox: Best backup program ever

Friday, Mar 27, 2009 9:30 pm
William Barnes
drop-box-icon

I love Dropbox (referral link*). I’ve been using it since September to back up my school notes and yesterday I suddenly noticed how much easier it has made things.

Dropbox is a program that runs in the background on your computer and monitors a folder (e.g., “Documents\My Dropbox”). Everytime you make a change to a file in that folder it immediately backs it up over the Internet. The free account gives you 2GB of space. There are paid accounts that give you more, but 2GB is plenty for my purposes. So you get the peace of mind that even if your laptop gets stolen on the way home from school, or if the hard drive suddenly dies, you have a backup already. It even keeps copies of old versions of all your files so if you accidentally break or delete a file, you can recover an older version from minutes or months earlier.

Even better, though, is that you can run it on multiple computers at the same time. I like my laptop most of the time. But my home computer has a much larger screen and a better keyboard. Before Dropbox, I used to do everything bent over my laptop even when I was at home. It was just too much trouble to copy files back and forth or to try to work on an essay at school and realize that the latest version is on my computer at home. Dropbox fixed that. Now when I press save at school, within seconds the file is updated on my computer at home. And within a few seconds of starting my laptop, any changes I made on my home computer are synchronized to the laptop. This is what hit me yesterday. I sat down at my computer to continue working on an essay I had been working on at school half an hour earlier and realized how I just take it for granted that whatever computer I sit down at has all my notes and essays already there. No network transfers, emailing, or USB keys. It’s so great.

Anyway, I cannot recommend this enough. Even if you only have one computer, the instant backup is still worthwhile. And it’s free anyway, so there’s no harm. Runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux so you can even synchronize the files if you own both a Mac and a PC.

In the interests of journalistic integrity or something, I should also mention Syncplicity. It does more or less the same thing but does not support Linux and the free trial limits you to two computers (I have Dropbox installed in three operating systems including Linux on each of two computers, Syncplicity won’t let me do that for free). Choose Dropbox instead.

* You get extra space if you refer somebody, if you don’t want to use the referral link go to http://www.getdropbox.com.

Schedules

Tuesday, Dec 9, 2008 11:07 pm
William Barnes

I would like it if the school would provide iCal schedules for us. It wouldn’t be that hard. The classes are at the same time every week. They would just need to define the classes (Torts MW 9-10 Sep1-Dec 8 ) and then add it together based on our schedules. It would be no more difficult (probably less difficult even) than the HTML tables generated on the website.

Then students could easily import our schedules into whatever calendar software we happen to use. Instead, I must sit down and spend half an hour entering in every class. If we could subscribe to a calendar on the Faculty of Law website, they could even update it when classes are canceled and when makeups are scheduled. Granted, that would be much more work, but wouldn’t it be great?

I wish I knew who to suggest this to.

Exam predictions

Thursday, Dec 4, 2008 7:21 pm
William Barnes

I have two exam predictions at the moment. They may be wildly off, but I figured I should write them down for the record.

  • Contracts: A guy has contracted to receive some amenity (like a giant TV for his Superbowl party) and gets an unsuitable item (a smaller TV, for example). He’s suing for expectation, reliance, lost enjoyment, and some really remote damage (maybe he couldn’t enter a contest advertised in the commercials because the TV was too small for him to read the number). We’ll have to consider if he could have mitigated by getting a TV elsewhere.
  • Constitutional: Both the federal and provincial governments pass laws to try and save the auto industry. The laws will be intra vires but conflicting (the federal one will be justified under POGG) and we’ll need to worry about paramountcy.

Ultra Vires

Thursday, Nov 27, 2008 7:36 pm
William Barnes

There has recently been some controversy regarding the Faculty of Law student paper Ultra Vires. The University of Toronto Law Union has taken issue with Ultra Vires’ practice of granting honorariums to volunteers at the end of the year. Having read the paper’s account, received a mass-email from the Law Union, had an interesting discussion with some classmates, and, finally, having not written anything on here for months, I decided to put my thoughts into writing.

The Law Union

Who are they? The email identifies three “co-chairs” of the group. The co-chairs are third-year students at the law school. They use a Gmail address to send their mail. They are not listed on either the Faculty of Law or the Student Law Society websites. In fact, other than their mention in Ultra Vires two weeks ago, I cannot find any evidence that they actually exist.

My suspicion is that they formed for the specific purpose of complaining about this. My further suspicion is that they are simply a few students who learned how to write a demand letter at their summer jobs and are itching to try out their new weapons. My opinion is that they may be the reason people don’t like lawyers. I could be wrong about these three things. I am open to correction (luckily nobody reads this blog, so I will remain correct).

The Issue

At this point, I realized I should have been writing this entry in the style of a case brief. Just for fun.

So the issue is that rather than giving leftover money to the students (as Osgoode’s student paper does) or simply investing the money in next year’s paper, the Ultra Vires [UV] board has been giving the extra money as honorariums. These honorariums range (according to the newspaper) from $500–$1500. The Law Union [UTLU] objects to this practice. I have no such objection.

The Arguments

That’s our money!

No, it isn’t. UV is funded by advertising. It gets no funding from the law school or our student union.

But they get office-space!

True. If the Faculty of Law is like the rest of UofT, however, UV pays (a token amount) to rent that office. In that case, we would lose no money. In the case that the office is truly free to UV, I believe that we get our money’s worth out of the paper.

They’re volunteers. Volunteers shouldn’t expect to get paid.

Two problems here: (1) they don’t expect anything, and (2) they are not being paid. The money they get at the end is contingent on the paper bringing in more money than it spends. If they lose an advertiser or have unexpected costs, they get less or don’t get anything. Also, the money is not payment (i.e. not a salary), it is an honorarium. Non-profits often give honorariums to people who volunteer for them. Ever go to a presentation and see someone jump up at the end and give the speaker a mug or flowers or other gift of some sort? That’s an honorarium. When I chaired the student life committee (such as it was) for SAC-UTM, I received a certificate and a cheque for $400 at the end of the year as a thank you for all the work I put in. It is common practice for non-profit groups to reward volunteers. Further, even if it were a salary, non-profits are fully entitled to pay salaries. If you really have an issue, you should take on UTSU, who not only pay salaries and honorariums, but receive money directly by student levy.

But volunteers should do it solely out of the goodness of their hearts!

Maybe so. But there is no reason to think that the editors at UV do it for any other reason. The payout isn’t guaranteed. And if they are doing it for the money, then they are obviously idiots. If they took the time they spent on the paper and got a job at McDonald’s they would earn much more.

But volunteers at association X don’t get honorariums!

Well, then take it up with X. Obviously, if they receive funding from SLS or the Faculty, they won’t be able to pocket the money. That funding comes out of a pool set aside for club expenses. If the club is totally self-sufficient, then, barring any other regulations, it’s their prerogative to give or not. If the honorarium makes a difference to you, then volunteer for UV; I hear they’re looking.

This entry is too long!

Nobody reads my blog, so you don’t exist. Clearly, you have more pressing matters to address.

They get to use the Faculty of Law name and distribute in the school, we control them!

There might be something to that. Certainly, if the Faculty decided that they didn’t like the practice they could make access to the school and it’s name contingent on doing something else with the money. Talk to the Dean. If the Faculty has no problem, then UV has no problem.

Conclusion

I’m cutting the entry artificially short perhaps. I’m stopping not because I’m out of arguments and counter-arguments, but because I’m out of time.

UV is self-sufficient. They can do whatever they want to do with their money (as long as it’s legal). In the last issue, the editor compiled statistics from surveys submitted by 2L students after their On-Campus Interviews. These statistics are well-worth whatever honorarium she gets. The students at the Faculty of Law get more value out of the paper than they theoretically spend on it.

The students at UTLU ought to reflect a little bit more and consider doing something of value themselves before sending bullying letters filled with unsubstantiated claims to try and take things away from other people. It’s obvious that people aren’t going to like my generation of lawyers any more than the last.

Course Waiting Lists

Sunday, Jul 13, 2008 2:01 pm
William Barnes

They don’t work.

Prior to UTM bringing in course waiting lists last year, I had never failed to get into a course I wanted on account of it being full. Last year, I was denied three courses. Yet, everybody seems to think they’re a great idea.

Fairness

The argument goes: fairness dictates that courses be first come first serve. Prior to the wait list, if a course was full, you had to log on to ROSI every few hours waiting for a spot to be available. A wait list preserves your spot in the queue. Consider a course with an enrollment limit of 50 students. Prior to the wait list, the 51st student to try to sign up would not be guaranteed the first opening if someone dropped the course. If the 100th student to attempt to sign up happened to do so just after a drop, then he would be successful. Or, if the 52nd student kept coming back every few hours, he might get the spot even though number 51 got there first. A wait list ensures that number 51 gets the 51st chance to sign up. Fair, no?

No. If number 52 cares so much about getting into the course, then, in all fairness, he should get in.

A bird in hand…

People seem to think that they will be more likely to get the courses they want if they can just put their name on a wait list. There are two problems. One, as stated above, a person who is only marginally interested in the course is granted the same priority as a person who is desperate to take the class. Two, wait lists result in dead lock: no sane person is going to drop a course they have while they sit on a wait list in the course that they really want.

Imagine I really want to take PHL245 but it is full with a wait list of 14 people. I add my name to the wait list but, realizing my odds are slim, I sign up for a class I don’t want to take (PHL274) just in case. PHL274 fills up with people doing the same thing because nobody wants to get caught without a full course load. This happens to all the courses. Every course is full and wait listed. A few weeks pass and people start reconsidering their original decisions. Someone in PHL245 decides that PHL274 looks like fun. But, whoops, the course has a wait list of 20 people and is filled with people who are either reconsidering their decision or never wanted the course in the first place. Very few people will move.

Without wait lists, I would drop a course I didn’t want to take because I know that something will open up if I am persistent. But with wait lists, I know that nothing is going to open up.

Without wait lists, I will get into the courses that I really want, because I will put extra effort in. With wait lists, I will get into the courses that are available on sign up day and people who want courses less than me will get into courses that I really want because their start time was earlier than mine.