Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hunting Anonymous could be 'waste of time,' parliamentarians told


OTTAWA — Parliamentarians tasked with investigating what has been deemed intimidating online videos against Public Safety Minister Vic Toews were warned Thursday that a hunt for the culprit — or culprits — could be a waste to time and resources.

MPs on the procedure and House affairs committee were told that trying to track down anyone using the online handle of Anonymous would be difficult, if not impossible to find.

House of Commons security staff have already checked and found that the YouTube videos weren't uploaded from a Parliament Hill account, and have stepped up their online security sweeps in the wake of the messages.

MPs on the committee reviewing whether Toews had his privilege as a parliamentarian breached when Anonymous put up the threatening videos will have to decide whether to attempt to track down the person or people behind the videos. That could involve calling in the RCMP or the intelligence unit responsible for cybersecurity.

"I really don't see how you will be able to figure out who uttered these threats against the minister," said Audrey O'Brien, clerk of the House of Commons.

She told the committee that a search for the Anonymous poster could be "a giant waste of time."

That message from the Commons staff responsible for securing MPs on and off Parliament Hill was received well by some members of the committee, but at least one Conservative wanted the search to commence.

Conservative MP Laurie Hawn said someone needed to be held responsible for the videos attacking Toews and demanding he withdraw the government's controversial online surveillance bill, and be held up as an example for others who would consider doing the same thing.

"Anonymous is a coward," Hawn said, adding he "had nothing but contempt" for anyone who would abuse free speech.

"They're like the Taliban. We're never going to run out of them."

Anonymous is a loosely knit group of online hackers with no central organization, meaning that anyone can claim to be part of the collective and disputes about tactics arise regularly.

The group is responsible for attacks against several high profile websites, including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and, in Canada, the website for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

Members of the group have been tracked down around the world in recent weeks, with Interpol saying 25 suspected members of the collective were arrested in Latin America as authorities in Europe and the United States charged six more after they were outed by one of their own.

The ad hoc nature of the group means that someone calling themselves a member could have uploaded the videos to YouTube targeting Toews. The YouTube account has been silent since March 1 when the last video was uploaded.

Parliamentarians were told Commons staff monitor the Internet for hacking threats, and meet daily to discuss how to keep the network and MPs safe.

"Security is evolving everyday," said chief information officer Louis Bard. "They're always something new to discover. The strength we have is the ability to react and I think we've proven that."

Meanwhile, House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer ruled that there may be a case that MPs had their privileges breached during a recent visit from Israel's prime minister.

Security on Parliament Hill was heightened for the visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so much so that parliamentarians were blocked at times from walking around the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings. New Democrat MP Pat Martin filed a complaint with the Speaker's office and on Thursday, Scheer said there may be a "prima facie" case that Martin and other MPs had their privileges violated.

"Security measures cannot override the right of members to unfettered access . . . free from obstruction or interference" Scheer said in his ruling.

That matter will now be referred to the House affairs committee for review.

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