Will Internet Free Speech Crackdowns Come to America?

We don’t hear much about “the Anglosphere” anymore. The term was coined after 9/11 to distinguish freedom-loving Western allies from those nations sympathetic or indifferent to Islamic jihad.

Sadly, the Anglosphere’s cheerleaders have since learned that the West isn’t always a reliable champion of liberty, either. Two “Anglospheric” nations in particular -- Australia and Canada -- have revealed a troubling urge to stifle free speech, especially on the Internet.

Recently, for example, Canada’s ruling Conservative government introduced the Investigative Powers for the 21st Century (IP21C) Act.

The act, observes Dr. Michael Geist, “is pretty much exactly what law enforcement has been demanding and privacy groups have been fearing.”

Geist is the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa and an internationally recognized expert on technology law. He warns that the act “will embed broad new surveillance capabilities in the Canadian Internet.”

First, IP21C would force Internet service providers (ISPs) to install expensive surveillance systems on their networks, supposedly to combat child pornographers.

“This feels a bit like a surveillance stimulus package,” remarks Geist, “with ISPs making big new investments” and the government promising the inevitable raft of grants and other goodies to ensure their compliance. Naturally, taxpayers will foot the bill.

Smaller ISPs will be exempt from this onerous requirement for three years, but as Geist says, that exemption “undermines the claims that [the act] is an effective solution to online crime”; criminals will simply continue doing “business” through those smaller ISPs, while developing ways to get around the new surveillance systems.

Equally troubling, the act also gives Canadian police wide-ranging new powers. ISPs will be obliged to surrender customer names, addresses, IP addresses, and email addresses on demand, without a warrant. “Preservation orders” will require ISPs to refrain from deleting subscriber information, while “tracking warrants” will let police “remotely activate tracking devices that are found in certain types of technologies such as cell phones.”

Canada’s Ezra Levant has become the nation’s most high-profile critic of any clampdowns on the free flow of information. After publishing the notorious “Danish Mohammed” cartoons in his now-defunct magazine, Levant’s battles against the country’s so-called human rights commissions made him the bane of government censors, do-gooders, and busybodies.

Now ever-attuned to threats to free speech around the world, Levant quickly weighed in when another Commonwealth country announced its own ham-fisted attempts to police the web.