Christopher Parsons: $80 Million dollars for Lawful Access Bill C-30 is a tall guesstimate
Remember when the government said that its Lawful Access Bill C-30 would only cost about $80 Million dollars and then some?
What if we told you those estimates are totally off the mark?
Well, here goes: The estimates are probably off. Okay, they’re way off.
Christopher Parsons, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Victoria, knows a thing or two about digital information and privacy. Parsons wrote a stellar article analyzing how one would have to go about setting costs for Bill C-30. He also attempts to find out how the government arrived at the $80 million number. He found this last part a little puzzling. You should really go and read the article yourself, but we’ve summarized it here for you in case you’ve only got time for the quick basics.
Parsons starts off by taking a thorough look at what Bill C-30 asks of telecom companies. What’s clear is that these companies, large or small, are going to have to make sure that, among other things, their data interception and storage capabilities are ready and able to meet the government’s warrantless surveillance requests.
What remains far from clear in Bill C-30 is just how much data telecom companies will need to intercept and store, and how detailed that data will need to be. As Parsons explains, different levels of detail will mean different costs ranging from labour to equipment and beyond. Without a clear understanding of what service providers will need to do and how they’ll need to do it, there really is no way solid way of placing the majority of Bill C-30’s costs.
Another sticky predicament is that Bill C-30 requires service providers to keep their surveillance powers updated, and in-line with state-of-the-art telecommunications standards. The government’s $80 million figure doesn’t actually take into account telecom companies’ current surveillance capacities, or how much it will cost each company to change and then maintain its current systems in order to comply with Bill C-30s already mysterious standards. And of course our digital communication is constantly changing (at the speed of the Internet!), so it’s hard to say what future costs will look like. Parsons makes it pretty easy to see why it’s challenging to add up numbers that don’t really exist.
Parsons continues his analysis by exploring what kind of effects will Bill C-30 have on individual companies and on Canadian innovation. In short Bill C-30 will definitely raise every telecom providers’ costs.
Whether the additional costs that come with subscriber surveillance powers are feasible for the majority of telecom companies’ business models is another question that many CEOs, entrepreneurs, and future investors will have to ask themselves.
Parsons also points out that Bill C-30 doesn’t adequately cover what kind of everyday communications platforms, such as Facebook or Skype, will fall under the scope of the legislation. That might mean that new technologies will try their luck in other countries first before coming to Canada, and that certainly won’t improve Canada’s digital deficit.
Regardless, it’s evident that placing higher costs on telecom service providers will force Canadians to foot the bill for warrantless online spying as both a taxpayer and as a consumer. Ouch.
All in all, Parsons shows that Bill C-30 needs a lot more work before its costs can actually be estimated and announced to Canadians. Without further clarity throughout Bill C-30, it is fair to say that $80 million over four years with $6.7 million per subsequent year is a grossly misleading and poorly thought out estimate, packed with substantial disregard for Canadian taxpayers as well as the nation’s digital future. To compare, Parsons quotes international estimates for similar online spying programs, which have figures as high as $3 – $5 billion.
A number of weeks ago Minister Toews, in an interview with CBC Radio’s Evan Solomon, was asked about the Lawful Access Bill’s estimated $80 - $100 million price tag and said the following:
"No, I don't know, and I think it would be best coming from the internet service providers. I wouldn’t want to presume what it would cost a smaller internet service provider or a larger one. Simply, I don’t know."
At least we now know that when Minister Toews said he had no idea about his Bill’s cost, that he really wasn’t kidding.
Read Christopher Parsons' article in full here.