Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Freedom of Expression? Certainly! Unless......
From Roy Green’s website.
It is the on air exchange with Canadian Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Jennifer Lynch on freedom of expression (speech) which most resonates during these days when the question of what is and what isn't acceptable speech is the subject of hot debate.
I quizzed the Chief Commissioner on the fact one of her senior investigators, during an actual Human Rights Tribunal hearing, had been quizzed on what value he placed on freedom of speech. Paraphrasing, his reply was he placed no value on freedom of speech because freedom of speech is an American concept. When I suggested to Ms. Lynch her investigator ought familiarize himself with the Canadian Constitution in which freedom of speech is enshrined, she countered the investigator was under stress at the time of the hearing and that the Canadian Constitution's reference is to "freedom of expression". I will concede the Chief Commissioner that point. In Canada the technical term is "freedom of expression", but Canadians when speaking to the issue will invariably consider "freedom of expression" and "freedom of speech" interchangeable. Besides, the CHRC investigator's view addressed the "concept", not the literal definition.
Freedom of expression and speech have been some will argue under assault and if assault is too harsh, then under review might serve.
MARC LEMIRE: This exchange on the aspects of Freedom of speech, was during my hearing. The witness was Dean Steacy, “Mr. Section 13” and my fantastic lawyer Barbara Kulaszka was grilling him on the witness stand. I can tell you, when Dean Steacy made that comment, the entire hearing room went silent. None of us could believe we just heard what he said.
Bloggers have chimed in on the Roy Green article also:
I remember that interview well, it was then that Ms. Lynch announced that the CHRC had undergone a moment of clarity, a conversion on the road to Damascus, a change of heart concerning, or more likely a memo from their tax payer funded PR advisers at Hill & Knowlton that the jig was up, and the CHRC would no longer allow it's staffers to play at Neo-Nazi's online. [BCF]
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
We have been investigating how the government seeks information from social networking sites such as Twitter and how the sites respond to these requests in our ongoing social networking Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, filed with the help of UC Berkeley’s Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic. As part of our request to the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, we asked for copies of the guides the sites themselves send out to law enforcement explaining how agents can obtain information about a site’s users and what kinds of information are available. The information we got back enabled us to make an unprecedented comparison of these critical documents, as most of the information was not available publicly before now.
We received copies of guides from 13 companies, including Facebook, MySpace, AOL, eBay, Ning, Tagged, Craigslist and others, and for some of the companies we received several versions of the guide. We have combed through the data in these guides and, with the Samuelson Clinic’s help, organized it into a comprehensive spreadsheet (in .xls and .pdf) that compares how the companies handle requests for user information such as contact information, photos, IP logs, friend networks, buying history, and private messages. And although we didn’t receive a copy of Twitter’s law enforcement guide, Twitter publishes some relevant information on its site, so we have included that in our spreadsheet for comparison.
The guides we received, which were dated between 2005 and 2010, show that social networking sites have struggled to develop consistent, straightforward policies to govern how and when they will provide private user information to law enforcement agencies. The guides also show how those policies (and how the companies present their policies to law enforcement) have evolved over time.
For example, the 2008 version of Facebook’s guide explains in detail the different types of information it collects on its users, but it does not address the legal requirements necessary to obtain this data. In contrast, the 2009 version groups this information into three categories (basic subscriber information, limited content, and remaining content) and describes, under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), the different legal processes required to obtain the various data. However, the 2010 version merely says that the company “will provide records as required by law.” Facebook doesn’t explain why it changed its language from year to year. While the 2010 guide’s language may allow the company to be flexible in responding to requests under a complicated and outdated statute, it does so through a loss of transparency into how it handles these requests.
MySpace’s guides also show an evolution. The September 2005 and March 2006 versions of MySpace’s guides distinguish between public and private user information, requiring only a subpoena for IP logs, contact information, and private messages. The June 2006 and November 2007 versions establish several different categories of user information that require different legal processes, ranging from a subpoena for a user’s name to a search warrant for access to a user’s private messages.
Also, in early versions of its guide, MySpace outlines that it will preserve data requested by law enforcement agents for 90 days. Law enforcement agents can then request a 90-day extension for a total preservation period of 180 days. This changed in the November 2007 guide, where MySpace said that it would “preserve the specific information identified in the request for up to 180 days and will extend the preservation as necessary at your request.” The November 2007 guide also describes MySpace’s Sentinel SAFE project, a previously unmentioned campaign designed to identify and remove registered sex offenders from the social network. Once MySpace matches a profile to a registered sex offender, it removes the user from the site and preserves the complete profile. Law enforcement officers who provide the appropriate legal process can then access the profile. The November 2007 guide goes even further in helping law enforcement—it details how agents can find MySpace information on a user’s computer, such as through IM client logs, cookie data, cached MySpace pages, and stored login information. The guide doesn’t say what prompted these substantial changes, but it is likely linked to the controversy surrounding alleged sexual predators on MySpace and the agreement MySpace made with several state attorneys general to do more to protect children.
There were also more subtle differences between the guides. While the guides are written to educate law enforcement about the type of user information the companies maintain and the legal process required to get it, some, such as MySpace and Yahoo!, provide law enforcement with sample language for data request letters, subpoenas, and search warrants. The requesting law enforcement agency can then use the template created by the companies.
Also, while ECPA allows companies to charge law enforcement for the time it takes to get the requested user information, only Yahoo!’s guide actually discusses this issue. The Yahoo! guide includes a fee schedule to approximate how much law enforcement will have to pay to obtain various types of user data from the company. For example, Yahoo! charges approximately $20 for basic subscriber records or “groups with a single moderator” and approximately $30-40 per user for the contents of subscriber accounts, including email. Also, where law enforcement requests deleted content, Yahoo! states it will “seek reimbursement for any engineer time incurred in connection with the request.”
Another difference between the guides shows up in how the companies deal with emergency requests from law enforcement. Under ECPA, the sites are allowed to disclose information without legal process when the companies believe there is a threat of death or serious physical injury. Most companies merely note that ECPA permits them to disclose this information in certain defined situations. However, some companies seem to go above and beyond the ECPA requirements. For example, MSN states that it “will respond” to these requests “outside normal business hours,” and eBay and MySpace have set up a special hotline or “First Responder” service that can (in eBay’s case) “return calls within 24 hours and process complaints quickly.” In all the guides we received, Yahoo!’s was the only one to remind law enforcement that Yahoo! “is not required” to disclose this information. Yahoo also requires law enforcement officers to explain why normal disclosure would be insufficient and why the information Yahoo! has will help avert the threat.
Facebook was the only company to make clear that its strict policies against fake accounts apply to law enforcement as well. In its 2008 and 2009 guides it notes that it will disable all accounts that provide false or misleading information, including police accounts, and in its 2010 guide it notes that it will “always disable accounts that supply false or misleading profile information or attempt to technically or socially circumvent site privacy measures.”
Of the guides we received, only Craigslist provides law enforcement disclosure information on its website (Twitter does too, but we didn’t get a copy of its guide in response to our FOIA request). This is unfortunate. Social media sites’ users should be able to see how the companies that hold their data respond to government requests for it. And, as we know, this affects a large number of real people. Twitter states that it has 175 million users. Myspace has over 100 million, and Facebook states it has 500 million. Without access to this information, it is impossible to evaluate how well these companies protect their users’ data.
For more information on how social media companies treat their users' data, see our spreadsheet, available in .xls and .pdf, or the individual guides here.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
'Freedom of Information' another empty promise.
Wednesday, 12 January 2011 02:01 Lethbridge Herald Opinon
Running for political office? You'd better promise "open government" and "transparency."
Everybody's in favour of that, apparently, in civic affairs along with provincial and federal functions.
But once they're elected, it seems, some politicians must be forgetting that pledge. "Freedom of information" becomes just another empty promise.
How else could you explain the news that Canada now places last among five parliamentary democracies, when it comes to answering citizens' requests for information.
Canada was one of the first nations to pass "freedom of information" laws back in 1983, when Pierre Trudeau was still prime minister but a London-based study shows they're largely disregarded today. Politicians and civil servants acting on their command do all they can, often as not, to hide any information that could show one of them in a poor light.
Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and Ireland are all better-served when they ask their governments for disclosure, it shows. Based on official statistics counting requests for information, denials, appeals, court decisions and other related factors, we score lowest.
Researchers at University College in London say this country's law now administered by a government-appointed commissioner is no longer functional. Almost everything, it seems, becomes some kind of state secret.
"Canada comes last, as it has continually suffered from a combination of low use, low political support and a weak information commissioner since its inception," their report says.
While the federal Access to Information Act says any Canadian is entitled to request government-controlled information, the system has become antiquated. Even the commissioner, Suzanne Legault, agrees with their verdict.
"We were seen as the leaders," but those days are long gone, she admits.
"We can use our own data, and come to the conclusion that our system is in decline."
Just 16 per cent of the 35,000 requests for information filed last year led to full disclosure of the information sought, she reports. Ten years ago, it was 40 per cent.
That's because Legault's office is denied the resources it needs to improve service, observers say. And she has no power to order the release of information requested, even when there's no over-riding reason it should remain secret.
That's why Canadians are so often left in the dark when important decisions are being made, whether it's about buying fighter aircraft without calling for tenders, or building new prisons for "unreported crime." If our government won't release studies supporting its big-spending plans, we clearly have a right to remain skeptical.
Not that all the blame lies in Ottawa, of course. Provincial governments may also excel at burying or suppressing information that upsets them. And locally, some city council candidates have criticized Lethbridge officials who, they claim, are not totally transparent in reporting the city's financial affairs.
What makes our nation's bottom ranking more odious, however, is the present Conservative government's promise nearly five years ago to make reforms to our Access to Information Act one of their top priorities. If Stephen Harper's administration is really working on this, it must be another state secret.
Or maybe it was just another empty promise.
From bad to worse.
Karma is a b*tch…
Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Gives $9500.00 Bucks To Cop Killer!
OTTAWA — The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ordered the Correctional Service of Canada to pay $9,500 in compensation to a man serving a life sentence for the 1983 murder of an Ontario police officer.
In a decision released Wednesday, the tribunal upheld a discrimination complaint by Peter Michael Collins, who shot and killed police Const. David Utman of Nepean, near Ottawa, at a shopping centre.
Collins, 48, who suffers from chronic and severe back pain, filed a human rights complaint alleging a directive requiring inmates to stand up for a once-a-day count by correctional officers amounted to "adverse differentiation" on the basis of disability.
The [correctional] service advised the tribunal that it recently granted Collins a medical exception, meaning he would no longer be required to stand and be counted.
Despite those admissions, the hearing proceeded in order to deal with Collins' claims for damages for pain and suffering and for special compensation. He was seeking the maximum compensation of $20,000 for each.
Utman, a 38-year-old father of two, was having coffee at a restaurant at the Bayshore Shopping Centre on Oct. 14, 1983, when he encountered Collins, who had escaped from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
Training a handgun on the officer, Collins ordered Utman to stand up because he was going to shoot him. He then fired a shot and missed the officer.
Collins again ordered him to stand up, his gun still trained on the officer. Holding his nightstick in his right hand, Utman rose and slowly approached Collins, trying to convince him to turn over his gun.
After inviting Utman to draw his weapon, Collins fired a second shot, hitting Utman in the chest. He died an hour later in hospital.
Collins was found guilty of first-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison.
And the most priceless article!
Workers slam 'toxic' environment at human rights tribunal
OTTAWA — The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is facing an outpouring of anger from workers who complain of a toxic workplace that is undermining the quasi-judicial agency's ability to do its job.
More than half of the 25-member staff, including middle and senior level managers, have left, taken sick leave or retired over the past year. At least three have filed formal harassment complaints.
Unions representing workers confirmed they received numerous complaints of abuse of authority, intimidation and personal harassment. They say employees describe a work environment that has deteriorated "to the point of toxicity."
The situation in the tribunal sounds strikingly similar to the poisoned workplace Auditor General Sheila Fraser found when she investigated the Public Sector Integrity Office under the leadership of retired commissioner Christiane Ouimet, said Milt Isaacs, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers.
The leaders of three federal unions have taken the unusual step of working together to get an independent investigation into the conflict and to find ways to resolve it.
"There's a toxic work environment. As an employer, you would think they would want to find solutions."
They also say Fraser's stinging report into Ouimet's leadership raises questions whether the government should be more carefully screening the people it selects for such senior posts, including their previous management track record.
Fraser's report found Ouimet was an abusive manager, who yelled, berated, marginalized and intimidated staff, many of whom left. She also concluded the career bureaucrat failed to live up to her mandate. She received 228 complaints over her three years in office, investigated seven but found not one wrongdoing.
Isaacs said these kinds of complaints are even more worrisome when they arise at an agency like the tribunal which should uphold and be sensitive to human rights issues.
The tribunal is Canada's premier human rights adjudication body. It acts like court and rules on cases referred to it by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.