Cyber-bullying, privacy measures should be dealt with separately

Cyber-bullying, privacy measures should be dealt with separately:

“I am concerned about some of the other unrelated provisions that have been added to the bill in the name of Amanda … and all of the children lost to cyberbullying attacks,” she told the committee. “I don’t want to see our children victimized again by losing privacy rights.

“We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, sextortion and revenge pornography.”

Carol Todd showed a tremendous amount of courage Tuesday. The government should honour her request to split out the cyber-bullying provisions, accept the NDP’s offer to fast-track them, and then turn its attention to finding a more reasonable solution to fighting online threats.

Based on comments during that hearing, I and highly doubtful the government of Canada will split the legislation in two. Still, we can always hope…


Definitely one of the better (and more accessible) discussions of Bill C-13, aka the federal government of Canada’s lawful-access-in-disguise-legislation. Of note: that piece of legislation is “now under a time allocation order that will likely see it sent to committee by mid-week.” If the Committee is rushed, then it’s entirely plausible the legislation could be passed into law before this session of parliament closes for the summer.


Some have suggested that the [Nova Scotia cyberbullying] law has to be so broad to capture all the harmful conduct and we should leave it to the courts and the cybercops to use their judgement in how it is applied. I’m sorry, but as soon as an employee of the government of Nova Scotia picks up the phone and tells a citizen to remove Charter protected speech from the internet, that crosses the line. That goes waaaaay over the line. Canadians have an absolute right to speak truth to power. Canadians have an obligation to call out politicians on hypocrisy and idiocy. An elected official like Lenore Zann, before publicly admonishing a minor, should educate herself about “copyrwite (sic) law”, fair dealing and the criminal code. (A bit of free advice: Bill C-12 isn’t the law yet and an image taken on a sound stage surrounded by a filming crew for the purpose of international broadcast on cable television likely does not qualify as an intimate image “in respect of which, at the time of the recording, there were circumstances that gave rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy”.)

Cyberstalking, Victimization, and the Experience of Fear

Ars Technica has a good piece on how cyberstalkers and bullies operate, with reporting based on studies (circa 2006, admittedly) and some anecdotal evidence. In effect, the mechanisms to stalk and bully online are often easy to use, reasonably accessible, and capable of significant intrusion into people’s lives. However, what struck me most poignantly was the concluding section of the article:

In this particular case, going to law enforcement wasn’t going to be much of an option. The woman said she had gotten rid of the BlackBerry, so there was no way to perform forensics on it to gather evidence. The same was true of her father’s computer, which the technician had wiped clean.

That’s a common problem in dealing with these sorts of cases, Southworth said. “Some victims just want their device clean and just want the stalking to stop. But if you clean off the device, you’re destroying the evidence.” And for victims who are trying to deal with an abusive relationship, trying to do anything to remove malware from a phone or computer could put the victim in danger. “Even looking for the spyware can raise the risk,” Southworth said, because the software could alert the attacker of the attempt and trigger violence.

And even when software is removed, the persistence of such stalkers usually means that they won’t stop their behavior—they’ll just take different approaches. That, paradoxically, is an upside for law enforcement, Southworth said. “They don’t stop, so if she wants law enforcement to get involved,” she said referring to the victim, “there’s likely another form of stalking going on for them to catch him with.”

People who haven’t experienced stalking, or the fear of stalking, may not appreciate the emotional desire to just make it stop. Such desires are often based on an attempt to feel ‘safe’ again, often when doing simple things like buying groceries, waiting for a bus, or just going home. As such, wanting to remove the suspicious tracking systems – instead of leaving them there, and maintaining the fear, in the hopes of a criminal arrest – will often take priority over ‘catching’ the perpetrator. But, at the same time, there is often a fear that the very act of ‘making the surveillance stop’ could lead to physical consequences. It’s a lose-lose experience, where any decision merely modifies the ‘kind’ of fear instead of terminating the experience of fear itself.

Moreover, removing suspected surveillance-ware may not alleviate the fear of being monitored: most technical systems (effectively) operate like magic for the majority of the computer-using population. How the surveillance-ware was even installed, or if it was all purged, or if it could infect a person’s computer systems again, will often pervade how a person uses computers. In light of specific concerns (surveillance) that are imprecisely directed (i.e. is my phone, my computer, or other device infected and, if so, would I even know?) a person may simply avoid some actions or actively engage in deceptions to ‘throw off’ someone who might be watching.

In effect, concerns of possible but undetected surveillance are often accompanied by heightened privacy and security efforts. These efforts might be more or less effective (or even needed!), and taking such efforts will almost certainly diminish a person’s ‘normal’ uses of services (e.g. Facebook) that their (not-stalked/bullied) friends and colleagues get to enjoy. Moreover, the experience of having to use such privacy and security techniques is representative of the scarring left by online stalking and bullying: ‘normality’ becomes defined as a defensive posture online based on (often) physical fears. No one’s ‘normal’ should be predominantly defined by fear.

It’s this broader emotional fear that is challenging to address, both in terms of law (i.e. getting the data needed to pursue a meaningful conviction or punishment) and personal mental health (i.e. learning to ‘trust’ systems that aren’t really understood and that have previously compromised a person’s life possibilities).

In Canada, the federal government has recently introduced legislation ostensibly meant to crack down on cyberbullying linked to the unauthorized sharing of a person’s intimate images. While criminalizing the sharing of such images may be a helpful addition to the Criminal Code for certain kinds of cases, doing so doesn’t address the broader challenges linked to cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Addressing these challenges requires something else – though I don’t know what – that meaningfully responds to the societal issues associated with online stalking and bullying in a more holistic manner, a manner that frees people from the persistent fear of being a victim despite going to either law enforcement or removing the stalking-ware.