Bad law stifles freedom of the press

They should have called it the Suppression of Freedom of the Press Act. Instead, the Harper Government called it the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. It was supposed to prevent cyberbullying.

It was used to spy on reporter Patrick Lagacé and find out who his sources were. The only way that whistleblowers are going to reveal corruption is if they remain anonymous. Once whistleblowers know that their identity can be revealed, they are less likely to talk to reporters.

The silence of whistleblowers is just one way of keeping the public in the dark. Former Prime Minister Harper simply refused to talk to the press. President-elect Trump has notched up his attack on the press by inciting hatred of reporters among his supporters.

Trump told supporters that journalists are “the lowest form of humanity” and that they are “disgusting and corrupt.” At rallies, crowds turned on the press shouting “CNN sucks!” and worse. Some Trump supporters have taken to shouting “luegenpresse (“lying press”),” the German slur that Nazis levelled against journalists, writes reporter Elizabeth Renzetti (Globe and Mail, November 4, 2016).

We don’t have to look far to see where this is going. After a failed coup in Turkey, President Erdogan declared a state of emergency in which he has locked up journalists and others. Journalists worry. “Turkey’s current state of emergency is being abused to indiscriminately target any and all who criticize the government.”

The silence of politicians; bad laws that deter whistleblowers; the vilification, threat of libel and imprisonment of reporters, –all threaten the flow information vital to a democracy. And there is the unwarranted intrusion through technology.

Cell phones contain a GPS chip that can be activated remotely by the service provider. A Telus Corp. spokeswoman explained that “we will provide real-time GPS locations … when ordered to by a court, in which case we are required by law to comply.” The chip serves a useful purpose when trying to locate a caller who has placed a 911 call but it’s a corruption of the technology when used to track reporters. The problem of technology goes beyond the GPS chip.

There are Stingray machines which mimic cell phone towers. When calls are made, a connection is made to the fake tower which police monitor. Triangulation is another way of locating a cell phone and there is Google Latitude. Once two cell phone users are located close together, it can be assumed that they met.

Technology is just a tool. It’s up to lawmakers to enact legislation that ensures that laws target the intended purpose. An act that was intended to target cyberbullying but suppresses freedom of the press was poorly written. Regardless, the police will use exploit poorly written laws as they see fit. RCMP Commissioner Paulson is candid:

“When you make applications to courts to seek those authorities, as long as everything is disclosed and the limits of your proposed investigative strategy are disclosed and it is understood as being linked to the evidence you are seeking, I don’t know what else the police could be asked to do.”

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