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Police probing ‘threats’ over Canadian internet privacy bill

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The Canadian public safety minister Vic Toews has called in the police to investigate threats made against him and his family in response to his internet privacy bill, which has also provoked a storm of online protest.

“Over the last few weeks I have been subjected to an extensive personal attack by my political opponents as a result of certain legislation that I have introduced in the House of Commons on behalf of the federal government,” he wrote in a widely-published letter to constituents. “These attacks, which have included criminal acts and threats of criminal acts against me and my family, have been referred to the police for investigation.”

On Tuesday Toews proposed the “Lawful Access Act” in the Canadian parliament, a bill that requires ISPs to install monitoring equipment for the police and to hand over identifying information and internet histories on customers without a warrant. The news of the bill hit Twitter immediately and less than two hours later the name of the bill was changed to “The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.”

The bill faced fierce criticism from the opposition, with accusations of hypocrisy, since the government has also proposed a law to destroy gun ownership records on the basis of privacy. Liberal MP Sean Casey requested the computer and BlackBerry records of MPs as part of the debate. Toews defended the bill, telling an opposition MP, "He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

The intrusive nature of the legislation, and Toews’ comments, also provoked a Twitter campaign dubbed #TellVicEverything, where Canadians would tweet random data about their lives, and #DontToewsMeBro, after the common internet meme. But someone posting as @vikileaks30 also began posting details of Toews expenses claims and rather messy divorce records, and the account soon had thousands of followers.

Toews acknowledged the attacks in his letter, saying they were from publicly available documents. The allegations covered his expenses claims and the ending of his 30 year marriage after a seven-year affair with the couple’s babysitter and the impregnation of a much younger woman who became his second wife.

“I will be fully accountable for any responsibility that I bear for the breakdown of my previous marriage but that accountability is not something I owe to the public generally or to my political opponents in particular. It is a personal accountability which I cannot avoid nor do I seek to do so,” he writes.

The IP address behind @vikileaks30 was traced to a user in the Canadian House of Commons by the Ottawa Citizen, and a parliamentary investigation has now been launched. Around 4,000 internet users use that IP address, but all major political parties have denied any involvement with the account. Shortly after the news broke the account was deleted, with the author denying being in Ottawa and said it was “shutting down before any other innocent people are targeted.”

Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird accused the main opposition New Democratic Party of being behind the smear campaign, and attacked them in parliament. "Not only have they stooped to the lowest of the lows, but they have been running this nasty Internet dirty-trick campaign with taxpayers' money," he said.

Meanwhile, the government appears to be back-pedaling on the bill itself. In an interview with CBC News Toews said that the government was open to debate and amendments on the legislation, and expressed surprise at some of the more intrusive parts of the bill.

"This is the first time that I'm hearing this somehow extends ordinary police emergency powers [to telecommunications]. In my opinion, it doesn't. And it shouldn't," he said. ®

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