So what now? Sympatico bends to spying?

Yesterday I saw this at the Globe and Mail. Not that I’m shocked, given the current political compulsion toward “protecting” citizenry by spying on them. I am however, deeply troubled by this development. I received no informative email of the changes to the service agreement and in fact, finding the change proved difficult. Firstly (and this is a whole other topic) I was informed upon visiting the Sympatico website, that I should considering using their only officially supported browser platform – surprise! – Internet Explorer. I am an avid Opera user, and luckily, the site seemed to perform without issue (whew!) I eventually found that the changes to the service agreement were buried here and here.

The specific change to which the Globe and Mail refers is:

17. User Information; Other Information. Your messages may be the subject of unauthorized third party interception and review. An individual with Internet access can cause, among other things, damage, incur expenses and enter into contractual obligations while on the Internet. All such matters are your sole responsibility. Your Service Provider has no obligation to monitor the Service, any content or your use of Your Service Provider’s networks. However, you agree that Your Service Provider reserves the right from time to time to monitor the Service electronically, monitor or investigate content or your use of Your Service Provider’s networks, including without limitation bandwidth consumption, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy any laws, regulations or other governmental request from any applicable jurisdiction, or as necessary to operate the Service or to protect itself or others.

You hereby acknowledge that Your Service Provider, its affiliates, agents and suppliers may retain and use any information, comments or ideas conveyed by you relating to the Service (including any products and services made available on the Service). This information may be used to provide you with better service.

Your Service Provider may send you Service related information on a regular basis via email addressed to your Sympatico parent email address or to another email address provided by you to Your Service Provider (in which case it is your responsibility to ensure that such email address remains current at all times). You agree to review and to familiarize yourself with all such Service related information, and Your Service Provider is not liable for any damage or detriment to you or your property resulting from your failure to do so. Your continued use of the Service following delivery of any such Service related information means that you accept and agree to comply with such information

The bill in the article was actually introduced by the former liberal government last November and is known as MITA (Modernisation of Investigative Techniques Act). The rhetoric suggest that this is an update to age old wire-tapping procedures. Of course, in order to wire-tap, permission was needed by proper authorities to proceed with the tap. In this case though, the technology for tracking Internet behaviour will already be in place; said the CBC: “The bill would also require cellphone and internet companies to add surveillance hardware and software to their networks” Thus, the necessary permission to access this information is, in effect, given after the information is gathered – will this make permission easier to get?

Scary stuff. I am particularly confounded by the notion that according to Sympatico it is my responsibility as an Internet user to protect myself from “individuals [who can] cause damage…” (fair enough – firewalls, antivirus, good computing habits, etc.), while at the same time My Service Provider reserves the right to monitor my usage of their networks. When can they do this? From Time To Time! I suppose it’s pointless to look for the official definition of what “time to time” actually means.

Of course, the idea (among those who support such things) is to catch people involved potentially exploitative or “dangerous” behaviours before they can make good on the exploitation or danger. And bolstering this argument will be the usual chorus of “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why should you worry?” What if someday what I have to say is something that goes against the status quo – it is already unpopular and sometimes a real hassle to go against authority in some parts of the world – so one has to wonder: where will the powers of interception stop, and will the day come where dissenting opinions are enough for authorities to assume guilt and act. For instance, because I use Sympatico as my ISP, could I someday get in trouble for expressing the opinion on this blog? Even though the blog is hosted elsewhere? Naturally, I can think of far worse situations, and I’m sure so can you.

I am now left with a very practical dilemma. I have my Sympatico service currently on hold because I am travelling, and when I get back I am supposed to call them to restart it. Now I considered going on over to Rogers, but today I found that:

15. a) […] We may monitor or investigate content or your use of our networks. We may also access, preserve or disclose information to comply with legal process in Canada or foreign jurisdictions; operate the Services; ensure compliance with this Agreement […]

Which seems to contradict what they request you NOT to do with their service:

4. b) …invade another person’s privacy or collect or store personal data about other users…
g) …inhibit or interfere with the ability of any person to use or enjoy the Internet…

If anyone has a good idea for service providers that might be a little less ready to jump on the paranoia bandwagon, that would be great.  Of course, it’s entirely likely that I’ll just keep going with Sympatico and probably never get hassled; if things ever actually do degenerate to a point where expressing dissenting opinions constitutes a thoughtcrime then I’ll probably be more worried about whether anyone can find me in my log cabin in the North than whether or not Sympatico has laid enough cable to get up that far!  Nonetheless, it would be nice to find an effective way to protest.

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