Bill C-51: Stephen Harper, Anonymous and the Joker's gambit

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It's hard not to turn to popular culture to explain Bill C-51 and the world another Harper government will usher in. And, three references leap to mind immediately. The first is a scene in The Dark Knight Rises.

A brooding Batman watches an arc of screens which contain ghostly images culled from cellphone data all over Gotham. He's invading the privacy of Gothamites, he tells his trusted armorer and technical expert Lucius Fox, in order to catch the Joker who is raining chaos and destruction down on his city. Fox is not buying it and doesn't believe the price of security has to be the cost of the wholesale invasion of citizens' privacy. "Spying on 30 million people isn't part of my job description," he tells Master Bruce. "This is too much power for one person." Since Fox is played by Morgan Freeman, we're on his side.

The second reference is from the TV series Mr. Robot. In the show, a hacker savant, Elliot Anderson, falls in with a cyberanarchist collective, fsociety. The collective is, of course, a fictionalized version of real-world hackivists Anonymous. In the show, fsociety wants to wipe out all credit debt by destroying the data of an overarching organization they call Evil Corp. In the real world, Anonymous announced last week that it intended to leak telling data about the Harper government in retaliation for the RCMP killing James McIntyre, a member of the diffuse collective -- according Anonymous. And, the group is no fan of Bill C-51 and Harper's support of it. Since its first threat, Anonymous has leaked documents revealing CSIS outposts and have promised info on why John Baird quit and how Canada spied on President Obama, who quenched the Keystone deal in retaliation, according to the collective.

Both cultural references are germane. Bill C-51 gives government agencies unprecedented and probably unconstitutional abilities to cyberspy on Canadians. It also broadly defines unpatriotic or terrorist activities that could well include pipeline and global warming protests. It's just the sort of measure that not only calls for reactions like those of Anonymous, but is, as Alfred said, too much power for one person. And, since the prime minister is currently played by Stephen Harper, we would be foolish to be on his side.

Anonymous and homegrown groups like are using the technology the Harper government wants to apply to spying to challenge the government's right to spy. They are using the web to publicly protest a bill that would curtail the right to protest online or elsewhere. Anonymous is even using hacking tools to spy on the spies and invade their privacy. It just could be that the secrets Anonymous reveals could change the course of the upcoming election. Fair's fair.

We have already seen how these government measures have played out. The National Security Agency (NSA), given unfettered power by the Patriot Act in the U.S., spied on Americans when they communicated on the web or on the phone. It spied on foreign bureaucrats and world leaders. It vacuumed up petabytes of private data as it flowed into Google and Apple servers and it lied about all of it to Congress. The covert government agency would have gotten away with all of it had it not been for whistleblower Edward Snowden. That they could do it at all was due to the climate of fear former President Bush deliberately engendered after the events of 9/11.

That climate is precisely what Harper was trying to generate by attempting to link Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the mentally ill killer of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, to global terrorism. And, it's exactly the kind of fear he is stoking with his election platform of national security against ISIS and Russia.

Which brings us to the third pop cultural reference, again from The Dark Knight Rises. The Joker has planted bombs on two ships and gives the detonator for each to the passengers of the other ship. In a deadly game of chicken, one must destroy the other or be destroyed. In the end, both sets of passengers decline to play the game, decline to give into fear and their worst selves, and the Joker's gambit fails.

In Canada, giving in to fear would be blowing up the boat loaded with our protection from tyrants. Hopefully, since we already know how this turns out, we'll let our better selves guide us and our Joker's gambit will fail.

Listen to an audio version of this column, read by the author, here.

Wayne MacPhail has been a print and online journalist for 25 years, and is a long-time writer for on technology and the Internet.

Photo: Bruce Fingerhood/flickr

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