Citizen Lab Calls Canada’s Anti-Encryption Stance “Irresponsible”

Canada is becoming increasingly open to the idea of undermining encryption. That has drawn fire from privacy group Citizen Lab.

The Canadian Liberal government is facing resistance to their proposal to undermine encryption. Earlier this month, the Trudeau government through Ralph Goodale said that they were considering laws that would require backdoors to encryption. The proposal came after the five eyes spy organizations renewed called for governments around the world to undermine security for the sake of security. The remarks would mean Canada would join 4 other countries currently either proposing anti-security measures or actively pursuing them. The other four countries are the US, the UK, Germany, and Australia.

While there are varying levels of backlash against these proposals, backlash against Canada has been rather muted. That is until recently when Citizen Lab blasted the proposal as “irresponsible”. From Citizen Lab:

The Government of Canada has historically opposed the calls of its western allies to undermine the encryption protocols and associated applications that secure Canadians’ communications and devices from criminal and illicit activities. In particular, over the past two years the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, has communicated to Canada’s Five Eyes allies that Canada will neither adopt or advance an irresponsible encryption policy that would compel private companies to deliberately inject weaknesses into cryptographic algorithms or the applications that facilitate encrypted communications. This year, however, the tide may have turned, with the Minister apparently deciding to adopt the very irresponsible encryption policy position he had previously steadfastly opposed. To be clear, should the Government of Canada, along with its allies, compel private companies to deliberately sabotage strong and robust encryption protocols and systems, then basic rights and freedoms, cybersecurity, economic development, and foreign policy goals will all be jeopardized.

Following the publication of the 2019 ministerial communique, Minister Goodale stated that “[w]e need to work with internet companies and the service providers to achieve two objectives simultaneously. The objective of the privacy values that flow from strong new technologies and encryption, but at the same time making sure that our platforms and services and systems are not harbouring the kind of behaviour that would exploit children and create victims…The privacy commissioner and others would not, I’m sure, make the argument that the system should be designed in such a way that it becomes the secret preserve of those who would exploit children, for example.” These comments insufficiently communicate the baseline failures within the Government of Canada to adequately use, and manage, available information to conduct or facilitate child abuse investigations. Instead, the Minister is seeking to paint all parties who support civil liberties and strong encryption as supportive of child abusers; this is the same kind of language that was used by the former Harper-era Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, when he asserted that the Liberal public safety critic (and, by extension, privacy and security advocates) could either “[s]tand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Encryption enables the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression, and association. It allows for greater democratic participation in the digital sphere and is integral to protecting and affirming privacy rights, dignity, and the security of persons, in particular those of persons who are most marginalized or otherwise vulnerable. All of these rights are guaranteed and protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As such, any attempts to interfere with these rights—such as by deliberately preventing citizens and residents from having access to the strong encryption technologies that enable the exercise of these rights—routinely attract Charter scrutiny.

Interfering with the availability of strong encryption may detrimentally impact fundamental freedoms under section 2 of the Charter (i.e., freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association), as well as the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure as guaranteed in section 8. Furthermore, the efforts by state actors to limit, undermine, or circumvent access to strong encryption may also have implications for other rights, including: the right to security of the person (section 7); the right to silence, the protection against self-incrimination, and the right not to be compelled as a witness against oneself (section 7, 11, and 14); or equality rights (section 15).

The response is quite lengthy and thorough. That’s just a very small sampling of their response. They ultimately conclude in part:

The proposed rationales for weakening encryption would exchange marginal gains in limited investigative situations for significant loses with regards to Canadians’ abilities to exercise their rights and freedoms while simultaneously undermining cybersecurity, economic development, and foreign affairs. Minister Goodale should stop calling persons with well-considered policy positions on the importance of enabling the availability of strong encryption as supporters of child abusers, and get on with his job of trying to keep Canadians safe instead of endangering them with his irresponsible and dangerous encryption policy.

Some anti-security advocates might try and say that this is all just one party saying these things. While there are some points about legality, is this really something we need to stop. Naturally, we here at Freezenet have been monitoring the security situation on this front for some time. All one has to do is check out the sorry saga going on in Australia.

Very similar arguments were made to push for anti-encryption laws. One of the end results of the anti-encryption laws were the police raids on journalists covering politically sensitive topics. If it weren’t for those anti-encryption laws, those raids likely wouldn’t take place. The anti-journalism action sparked a fierce response from international journalism organization Reporters Without Borders.

Some might go out on a limb and say that the arrest of journalists would never happen here. As a matter of fact, the prosecution of multiple journalists is what caused Canada’s press freedom index to fall this year. Really, these anti-encryption law proposals would only stand to exacerbate the issue facing Canadians.

Since Canada is currently heading into an election at this point in time, this issue likely won’t get much play. That election is scheduled to take place on October 21, 2019. Chances are, this will only crop up after the election is over. Still, it does highlight a troubling movement within the Liberal party.

(via IT World Canada)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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