DebatesInformation & LawLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Winning against the “lawful access” bills: Two strategic intuitions

Débats - DebatesAre there actions we could start today in a decisive campaign against the adoption of so called “lawful access” bills by Canada? I came to answer “yes” while listening to a presentation by Antoine Beaupré, system administrator at Koumbit. It was during a public meeting entitled ” ‘Illegal access’ and the attack of internet freedoms”, on February 3, 2012, in Montreal.

Let’s remind us that the “lawful access” bills that already died three times because of dissolution of Parliament have not been tabled again yet. However, it is expected that the Harper government will go ahead. The latest versions of the legislation gave the police new powers to access data held by Internet services providers (ISPs). They allowed the mandatory disclosure of customer information without judicial oversight, as well as real-time monitoring across ISPs’ networks. All measures deemed unnecessary and dangerous, not only by civil libertarians, but by many police forces also. A detailed legal analysis was published recently by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.

The meeting was organized by Koumbit an IT workers coop that offers several services including web hosting: thus, it has already had its share of searches for information and of servers. Like many other businesses it that field, Koumbit fears the effects of the “lawful access” initiatives on the civil liberties of its customers and of all the citizens who use the Internet from anywhere in the world. Indeed, the opening presentation of Antoine Beaupré dealt with less the legal aspects of the bills as of their technical and political dimensions. (more…)

Lab NotesLiving between the linesNotesObservationsReflections

Truthfulness of personal information as indicator of social morality?

ObservationsCan the level of accuracy of personal information items be indicative of the moral virtue of the social system in which the information is used?

This question came to me while I was doing some renovation at home while listening to Tapestry CBC One radio show. This week, Mary Hynes met Sam Harris in the wake of the publication of his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. A surprisingly short interview given that this show’s usual practice is to devote its whole hour to a single personality or subject. By listening to Harris, one understands. He certainly offers a convincing argument about the ability of science to shed light on a moral issue, or even to decide between what is right and wrong. However, the fierceness of his attacks against religions quickly annoys, thus weakening his argument.

Still, neuroscience, for example, can objectively observe through scanner and hormonal analysis that, in general, an altruistic action provides wellness to human beings who do it as those who receive it. It also observes as exactly the opposite effect with a selfish action, that it is even worse for a malevolent action. Many developments in biology, ethology and ethnology as well as psychology and sociology do offer increasingly revealing insights on various moral issues. As Harris points out, science offers here the advantage to transcend cultures, religions and moral systems because of the provable and universal nature of its conclusions.

What with the quality of personal information? The short answer is that, on one hand, science is dependent on the quality of its data and that this quality often depends on the willingness or ability of human beings to tell the truth. Still on the other hand, the level of accuracy of the provided information is measurable… scientifically.

The anecdotal answer comes from to two recent observations about the necessity…  to lie. (more…)

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

Canadian conservatives battling over the census… in USA

ObservationsI wrote in July that the Conservative government’s decision to abolish the compulsory nature of the census’ long form probably originated from an observation of the recent controversies surrounding U.S. Census as well as of the potential political risks and opportunities in their import in Canada.

Subsequent conservatives’ statements have amply demonstrated that the rationality of their decision was more one of partisan calculation than of administrative rationality or respect for the rights of citizens. Today, the Liberal Opposition tabled a bill to make the long form mandatory, still along with fines, but no more imprisonment. As if the opposition in the Commons blindly followed to the letter their role in one of the possible scenarios envisioned by the Conservatives.

However, the American inspiration for the strategy and the discourse in support has never been so clearly brought to light than by the statements of Minister Tony Clement on Tuesday. Jennifer Ditchburn of The Canadian Press reports that according to Clement, the enumerators could beat the system and make off with the personal information of Canadians. Although Statistics Canada has clear policies, “some enumerators are recruited in the same neighbourhood as respondents. This means, says Clement, “your neighbour may know some of your most personal and more intimate information.”

The minister described the situation here in the U.S. where, constitution requires, the census must be conducted by enumerators.

In Canada, the census is self-administered … since 1971. One reason for the abandonment of enumerators was specifically related to a matter of respect for privacy. It was less to avoid the risk of espionage, but to reduce the intrusiveness and the intimidating presence of a visit by a possible neighbour and therefore the bias resulting from the reluctance to answer questions honestly, even to answer at all. Indeed Statistics Canada’s policy for telephone follow-up reminders is to rely on enumerators who should not be from the area of citizen contacted.

In short, the cat is out of the bag. Latest Clement’s arguments are clearly American import copy and paste that have no relevance in the Canadian context. So gross an error would have not occurred if the conservative decision had been taken on the basis of some needs analysis to improve the Canadian census. Moreover, if one had wanted to improve the census, one would have amended the long form rather than spend the summer denigrating the questions it contains, and even those he does not…

Critique of CensusLiving between the linesNotesObservations

2011Census’ Theatre of Fears

Do you know someone who completed the census out of fear of fine or imprisonment? Or someone having not completed it who feared it? No? Then ask: What does Harper government fear?

Decision to transform the mandatory census’ long-form into a voluntary survey has led to genuine alarms. Scientists, business communities and local administrations dread deterioration of the data necessary to their work and decisions. Organizations acting for linguistics minorities, women and other communities worry about losing sound figures on which they base their advocacy.

However, accusations that Conservatives try to undermine the gathering of information that might contradict their policies are not plausible. It would be a dangerous game: skewed results from botched census could as much disserve them. It does not fit with a 50% multiplication of long questionnaires (from 3 to 4.5 million at additional cost of $30 million) plus a participation promotion campaign. Moreover, this government’s punctilious programs’ reviews and, especially, this Conservative Party’s wedge politics strategies require very reliable statistical benchmarks. (more…)

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