Yesterday I got a call from the Police Association of Ontario. It was basically a telemarketing call as they were trying to raise funds. This really bothers me for a couple of reasons.
I always find it very intimidating when the police associations or the fire department equivalent call looking for money. As a society we definitely owe these people something. They are the reason why we have law and order (not the show) and good emergency response. However, they are also in a position that makes them very intimidating. What happens if I don’t give money to one of these groups? Does my name get put on a little list so next time I am speeding I get a ticket instead of a warning? Will the fire department be just a little bit slower getting to my house if there is a call? Sure, all of these ideas sound pretty far fetched. What if the person calling is not a hired sales droid but is an off duty police officer who lives down the street? Or a off duty fireman who recognizes the address on the emergency radio as the address of the person who was rude to him on the phone last night. Perhaps these feelings are more acute for me because I grew up in a small community where if the local departments did the calling these coincidences could easily come true. These feelings may not be based on any kind of logic but they do exist, at least for me. Personally, I have a lot harder time saying no to the police and fire department telemarketing fund raisers than I do any other group. In fact, yesterday might have been the first time I actually did say no to them and that’s because of my second point.
One of the reasons they were asking for donations is to lobby for law changes. The pitch went immediately to sex offenders. “Do you watch the news? Yes. Then you have heard about the recent problems in Brampton.” For those outside of Ontario he was referring to this. The nice tele-sales guy then preceded to explain that the laws are too lax and that criminals who are released just re-offend so the law should be changed to keep them in jail. Another example of the Police Association of Ontario’s politics can be found on their website; the little ‘Club fed’ logo. Obviously, they think the prison system is too easy on criminals. Police officers are given a special role by our society. The role of upholding the law. With this role comes respect and power. By using this position to raise funds and lobby for changes to the legal system they exert unfair influence on our society. It is not the role of the police to make laws, we have the elected officials and the judiciary to do that.
I’m sure the Police Association believes what they are doing is correct and it’s probably not illegal. Whether they realize it or not they abusing the power that their role in society gives them.
There is some very good news for Canadian ISPs on the Copyright war front today. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that ISPs are not responsible for the content their customers download. CBC News has details here. If the court had made the opposite decision every ISP in Canada would have had to instantly become the content police despite the fact that this would have been next to impossible to accomplish technically.
A little bit of personal opinion now. In recent years parts of our society have been arguing for new laws to apply to the Internet. What these people fail to realize is that the Internet is not a new world. It is simply a faster, more efficient and capable way of communicating. More often than not current laws can be sanely applied to the Internet.
Should the phone company be responsible for it’s customers using the phone network to plan to illegal, Copyright infringing acts like copying thousands of CDs for sale on the street? Of course not. Should the transportation company that is hired to move these CDs between cities be responsible for the Copyright infringement? Of course not. So why would ISPs be responsible? ISPs simply move data packets from network node A to network node B. One of my favourite quotes fits this situation “We’re sysadmins. To us, data is a protocol-overhead.” ISPs do not want to look at your data.
As more and more of the old phone system moves to packet based networks (primarily IP and the Internet) we need to make sure that ISPs have no interest in watching who we are communicating with. Believe me, if ISPs could be held legally liable for what you download online they would watch every bit that leaves your computer.
For those who are new to the story last year there was a horrible abduction and murder of a young girl in Toronto named Holly Jones. See CBC — Holly Jones for a time line and some background information.
On June 16th the trial of Michael Briere, the accused murderer began. He pleaded guilty. The twist to all of this is that in he plea he explained how he was looking at child pornography on the Internet the same day he abducted and killed Holly. CTV News has an article covering this. As expected this admission has resulted in calls for new laws to punish people who possess child pornography.
Canada already has laws that cover child pornography. If Briere would have been caught with these materials on his computer or viewing them on the Internet he would have been punished by the justice system. How would stricter laws have saved Holly when the enforcement of existing laws failed to find and punish Briere?
Especially troubling are the people who believe that ISPs should be filtering all ‘bad’ content. Obviously child pornography is bad but where is the line drawn? Coming from the technical side of things it’s also pretty much impossible. Good old fashioned police work is whats needed. We need police forces capable of working with new technology and not new laws that are unenforcible.
Wow. Everyone interested in copyright and how it applies to new technologies should read this. Absolutely brilliant.
The continuing saga of the The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute FUD machine is quite amazing. It scares the crap out of me that the world is influenced by people like this. Check out the discussion in Tim Labert’s Blog. Groklaw is also getting in on this.