Michael Geist: Responding to the Attacks – Why We Need to Resist Quick-Fix Anti-Terrorism Measures

ATN-300InsightaaS: Readers who follow Across the Net know that we are appreciate and support the efforts of Michael Geist to examine issues and legislation that affect Canadians’ privacy and digital freedoms. In this post, Geist takes a further step, urging restraint in responding to the late October terrorist attacks with new legislation.

This is, I believe, a principled and courageous position, even it if is likely to be unpopular in many quarters. There is often little to be gained in acting as a voice of restraint in times when emotions demand satisfaction. However, two of the themes in Geist’s post bear repeating. One is that “legislative reforms must also address Canada’s weak oversight and accountability mechanisms.” Laws are only as good as the ability of governments to enforce their provisions, and many well-intentioned laws lack substance because they lack (for example) adequate funding for enforcement. The other theme worth noting is that “past experience suggests that the unintended consequences that may arise from poorly analyzed legislation may do more harm than good.” There’s often room for debate on this score. For example, proponents of The Patriot Act and PRISM might note that there have been no new terror attacks on US soil since 9/11, while opponents might lament a loss of freedom from government oversight. Neither group would be likely to talk about economic fallout, but there is evidence that The Patriot Act and PRISM affect overseas business opportunities for US-based companies in some sectors. Would anyone have thought to connect those dots in the aftermath of 9/11? Likely not…and that is supportive of at least part of Geist’s point. As a society, we share a common abhorrence of terrorism. Let’s be sure, to quote a former colleague, that we are ‘solving the right problem’ in our rush to do a better job of preventing it. 

Two shocking terror attacks on Canadian soil, one striking at the very heart of the Canadian parliament buildings and both leaving behind dead soldiers. Office buildings, shopping centres, and classrooms placed under lockdown for hours with many confronting violence first hand that is rarely associated with Canada.

Last week’s terror events will leave many searching for answers and seeking assurances from political and security leaders that they will take steps to prevent it from happening again. There will be an obvious temptation to look to the law to “fix” the issue, and if the past is a guide, stronger anti-terror legislation and warnings that Canadians may need to surrender more of their privacy and civil liberties in the name of greater security will soon follow.

My weekly technology law column…notes that if there are legal solutions that would help foster better security, they should unquestionably be considered. Yet Canada should proceed with caution and recognize that past experience suggests that the unintended consequences that may arise from poorly analyzed legislation may do more harm than good.

The Canadian experience with lawful access reform provides an instructive lesson in how knee-jerk legislative responses rarely provide the desired solutions…

Read the entire post on Michael Geist’s website: Link


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