Monday, March 26, 2012

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Vikeleaks30 mastermind Carroll ready to appear before Ethics Committee, Toews to testify Tuesday

Ethics House Affairs committees charge ahead with study of Vikileaks, Anonymous

By Laura Ryckewaert, Chris Plecash
Monday, March 26, 2012
Despite attempts by opposition MPs to rescind the House Ethics Committee’s summons for former Liberal research bureau staffer and @vikileaks30 mastermind Adam Carroll to testify, the summons still stands and Mr. Carroll’s lawyer, Paul Champ, says his client is ready to testify.

“It’s in the committee’s hands when they would like him to appear. Barring any changes to his condition, I don’t see why we wouldn’t appear whenever it’s convenient for him,” Mr. Champ told The Hill Times last week.

Mr. Carroll started the @Vikileaks30 account after the federal government introduced Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, which will greatly enhance the ability of federal law enforcement to conduct surveillance of the public’s internet activity on February14. Soon after Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (Provencher, Manitoba) defended the legislation in the House by telling opposition members that they “stand with us or stand with the child pornographers.” Mr. Toews’ comments created strong reaction and within 48 hours the @Vikileaks30 account was airing details of Mr. Toews divorce to more than 7,000 followers.

Mr. Carroll was initially asked to appear before the committee on March 13, but Mr. Champ informed the committee that his client would not appear at that time due to health issues. A summons was subsequently issued, and Mr. Carroll was expected to appear at the March 15 meeting but again he was too sick to attend.

Although Mr. Carroll is now cleared to appear before the House Ethics Committee to answer questions about his orchestration of the @Vikileaks30 Twitter campaign against Mr. Toews, at this point he is not scheduled to appear before the committee on Tuesday of this week, or at any time in the future.

Mr. Champ, the Ottawa-based lawyer, who specializes in human rights law, will appear alongside Mr. Carroll at any future appearance before the House Ethics Committee. Mr. Champ said any public statement from Mr. Carroll would be made at the committee where his client is prepared to provide detailed information about how the @Vikileaks30 Twitter account, which aired salacious details from the Public Safety Minister’s divorce file, was set up, operated and used between February 14 and 17.

Mr. Champ said that Mr. Carroll’s undisclosed ailment made the House Ethics Committee’s summons a human rights issue “to an extent.”

“The disability issue is something that I’ve raised with the committee and I’ve indicated to them that they have a duty to accommodate any medical restrictions that he may have in his appearance,” Mr. Champ said, adding that Mr. Carroll was also dealing with financial hardship after being dismissed from his duties as a researcher for the federal Liberal Party, where he had worked for eight years. “We’ve communicated this to the committee and if the committee refused to respect those conditions or restrictions then we would have other matters to deal with. We’ll see how it unfolds at this stage.”

Mr. Carroll could be found in contempt of Parliament if he fails to appear before the committee.
Within the House Ethics Committee though, opposition members seem to want the committee to lose its focus.

Conservative members of the House Ethics Committee have frequently moved to hold meetings in camera, but on March 15 there were only two Conservative members present at the start of the meeting and opposition MPs quickly jumped on the opportunity to take the scheduled in-camera meeting public.

“We think this is a discussion the public deserves to hear, and they deserve to hear how our committee is being high-jacked by Dean Del Mastro and this witch-hunt,” said NDP MP and committee member Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ontario).

Once public, Mr. Angus quickly moved to rescind the summons asking former Liberal staffer Mr. Carroll to appear before the committee to testify.

“Under the Parliamentarian code, if someone apologized for something in the House, and the Speaker accepts it, then the matter is closed…someone has to take responsibility and someone has to apologize, and they [the Liberals] did that within the confines of the House, so the Speaker ruled that closed, but that wasn’t good enough for the Parliamentary secretary [Mr. Del Mastro],” said Mr. Angus at the meeting.

House committees have the authority to report facts to the House and suggest remedies, but only the House—that is, effectively, the House Speaker—has the authority to make a ruling, and it is up to the House whether or not to adopt a committee report.

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“Why we would be expected to take something back to the Speaker when the Speaker’s already ruled on this, again, turns this into a monkey show,” said Mr. Angus at the committee meeting.

Not long into the meeting’s televised session, with more MPs having arrived, the Conservative majority on the Ethics Committee was restored and Conservative MP and committee member Blaine Calkins (Wetaskiwin, Alberta.) moved the proceedings back in camera.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Joe Preston (Elgin-Middlesex-London, Ontario), chair of the Procedure and House Affairs Committee, said the committee will likely spend around five more meetings on their study of hacker collective Anonymous and already has witnesses in mind, including the RCMP.

Following the shut down of the @Vikileaks30 account by Mr. Carroll on February 17, Anonymous posted a YouTube video demanding—in a computer-generated voice—that Mr. Toews scrap Bill C-30, and step down as minister. In the video, Anonymous threatened to expose further details of Mr. Toews’ personal life.
“You will cease your efforts to defy the will of your own citizens immediately. If you do not, rest assured that public outrage and protests will only grow and you will find yourself not only mocked, but jobless and despised. A man as deceitful as yourself is bound to have many skeletons in his closet,” said the video’s voiceover.

On March 6 House Speaker Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan) ruled that the Anonymous video constituted a “direct threat” to the minister and found it to be a question of privilege.

Immediately after, Mr. Toews tabled a motion—which the House passed that evening—to send the matter to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee for study.

The committee’s study is a puzzling one due to the nature of the Anonymous group: a fluid and faceless collective of ‘hacktivists,’ Anonymous is better described as a meme than a group, as any hacker-activist is open to protest under the name.

“We all come here to do our job and to do the work of the country. When a minister of the Crown can be threatened because he’s doing his job, because he’s putting forward a piece of legislation, I think all Parliamentarians and perhaps all democracy is a bit threatened by that,” said Mr. Preston. “I think sometimes things like this are taken just a little bit too lightly and it’s a very serious matter.”

On March 15, the House Affairs Committee heard testimony from the Clerk of the House, Audrey O’Brien, Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, and chief information officer Louis Bard on the state of the House of Commons’ internet security as part of their study on Anonymous.

Mr. Preston said the meeting’s purpose was to learn more about Parliament’s internet security and monitoring systems, and determine the safety of MPs’ personal and classified information on their Hill computers or BlackBerries.

“Many people think we somehow have to discover Anonymous in order to finish this study, and I don’t think that’s the case. We have to prove that there was a breach of a member’s privilege…and then we have to come up with a remedy or prevention for the future. That may be a bit tougher, but I’m not certain we have to identify Anonymous to get that answer,” said Mr. Preston.

Liberal MP and committee member Marc Garneau (Westmount-Ville-Marie, Quebec) said that while he thought it was important for the RCMP to investigate the threats, he was still scratching his head over the decision to send the matter to committee.

NDP MP and committee member Chris Charlton (Hamilton Mountain, Ontario) noted that the committee has three responsibilities—to confirm if there is a finding of privilege, to find the culprit, and to explore possible remedies—and asked the witnesses for advice on how to frame the committees’ study.

“Frankly speaking, I’m not sure that seeking out a culprit as such wouldn’t be a giant waste of time, because I think the nature of these attacks is that they’re extremely fluid,” said Ms. O’Brien.

Ms. O’Brien said it’s important to put things in context of what’s happening in the world today so as not to “engender unwarranted anxiety about the thoroughness of our security posture.”

Moreover, Ms. O’Brien also noted that due to the fact that the video was posted on YouTube, “it’s completely outside any of our controls or environment,” and questioned where the committee was taking its study.

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In terms of remedies Ms. O’Brien said that “awareness is the most important thing,” and added that the committee needed to make peace with the idea that they can’t control what goes on in cyberspace.

Committee members asked the witnesses questions about the House’s ability to trace emails, how vulnerable it is to hackers, and how secure constituency office internet systems are. Conservative MP and committee member Bob Zimmer (Prince George-Peace River, British Columbia) asked on behalf of a colleague whether it was possible for a hacker to put a document onto an MP’s Parliamentary computer.

Mr. Bard said while it was possible, “in every instance we’ve been the first one to detect this on Parliament Hill.” Mr. Bard said there is extensive monitoring of the House system.

“The chief information officer and his team are in constant contact with the Communications Security Establishment to monitor cyber threats,” said Ms. O’Brien.

Ms. O’Brien said there are also outside partners who continuously monitor the threat level facing the Parliamentary precinct and MPs, and said “we adjust our posture here appropriately in order to respond to that.”

Mr. Bard estimated that 70 per cent of emails sent to Parliament’s system—that is, to any email address ending in or a close variation, not just main MP email addresses—are rejected before they enter Parliament Hill. Mr. Bard said an email falls into that 70 per cent when it’s origins can’t be traced back.

“Security is evolving every day.… It’s like peeling an onion, there’s always something new to discover. I think the strength we have is the ability to react, and I think we’ve proved that several times,” said Mr. Bard, adding that when something like the Anonymous video happens the House strengthens its monitoring system and reinforces security measures.

Mr. Bard pointed out that constituency offices’ internet access is outside the Parliamentary Precinct system and therefore it’s not monitored by Parliament’s security team. He suggested that, if it hasn’t already been done, MPs should develop a security plan for internet use to implement in their constituency offices and teach to constituency staffers. He said House information services could provide consultation to help MPs develop plans for their offices.

Mr. Toews is set to testify before the committee for an hour on March 27.

Though the Procedure and House Affairs recently received another question of privilege to study on March 15 when the House Speaker ruled that tight security measures during the recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have breached MPs’ privileges by hampering their movements, Mr. Preston said for now, the committee remains focused on its Anonymous study.

“I expect that we’ll probably speak to a couple of police groups, whether it’s the RCMP or other police groups around the world about Anonymous, but they will look at how we prevent this. In this case it was a threat through a YouTube video,” said Mr. Preston. “I’m not sure there’s prevention but there may need to be some thought of remedy. What can Parliament do to stand up for Members of Parliament?”

A check of the anit-Vic Toews Anonymous YouTube video indicated 9,710 visitors at time of writing. In doing the research we also stumbled upon what appeared to be an American-based site promoting it.


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