OTTAWA -- The most commonly uttered word on Parliament Hill these days is "privacy."

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This article was published 20/2/2012 (3373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


OTTAWA -- The most commonly uttered word on Parliament Hill these days is "privacy."

The second should be "ironic."

Ironic in that what should be private is fast becoming less so, and what should be public is quickly disappearing behind closed doors.

On one hand, the government has introduced legislation that would force Internet service providers (ISP) to give the government private information about clients -- names, addresses, IP addresses, email addresses -- without a warrant. An IP address identifies your computer when you go online and can be used to track Internet habits.

Legal experts say under this law, if the government wants to know who owns an IP address that visits certain websites, all they need to do is track the ISP that owns it (easy as pie) and then demand the ISP tell them who owns the account connected to the IP address. Alternatively, the government might have a name and want the IP address associated with that person.

Under this bill, the government can get such information without having to prove there is a criminal investigation and without a warrant.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who introduced the bill last Tuesday after suggesting its critics were supporting child predators, didn't even appear to know how invasive his own bill is. He told CBC Radio's The House Saturday he wasn't aware the bill lets the government ask for information without a criminal investigation underway.

If you think a government won't abuse such powers, remember the attempts certain departments have made to discredit critics. Veterans advocates had their personal medical files unlawfully searched in an attempt to discredit them. An advocate for native child welfare was followed online and in person after she filed a human rights complaint about the government's funding of child-welfare services on reserves.

This bill will give the government a new way to spy on its critics. And the critics might never know about it, because the bill includes a clause that prevents an ISP from telling clients private information has been given to the government.

At the same time as the government is asking for greater powers to intrude in the lives of Canadians, it is ensuring more of Parliament's work is done out of the public eye.

There are repeated motions by government MPs to push House of Commons committee business "in camera" -- a bureaucratic, jargony way of saying "keep your prying eyes off what we say and do here, Canada." Last week it happened repeatedly. In one instance, the NDP tried to get the House of Commons ethics committee to agree to call the RCMP as witnesses to explain why more charges haven't been laid under the Lobbying Act. That suggestion actually came from Guy Giorno, the former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

As soon as the request was made, the government moved to have the debate in camera. Ultimately the RCMP will not be appearing. Canadians don't get to know why the government didn't want them there.

Then there is the unreliable access to information system. Requests are delayed and routinely denied without justification. When the information commissioner makes recommendations for improvements, the government ignores them.

The government wants to know more about what you do, but it wants you to know less about what it does.

Ironic? Or just plain scary.