Clarifying the Possible Canadian Surveillance Legislation

A report has surfaced that has received a fair bit of attention. The report suggests that Canada is facing a piece of internet surveillance legislation that would pretty much eliminate all due process. Naturally, this is of concern to us because we are concerned about privacy related stories, so we took a look at the report. Now, we’d like to offer some clarification on the current situation in Canada on this matter.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

We here at ZeroPaid read a lot of articles in any given day. We are always on the lookout for anything that might be of interest to our readers and we combine that with our own ability to write our own original content.

Part of what can make a great journalist is the courage to step outside our own comfort zone and report on things we don’t necessarily know every nuance and detail. For many, that’s simply a matter of reporting on things that are going on outside our own country. In a sense, it’s simply looking beyond what is going on in our own back yard to understand what the rest of the neighborhood is up to. That can go a long way in being able to take lessons learned from the neighbors and be able to bring it back home.

That doesn’t always mean that everyone is entirely successful. Sometimes, one can absorb every single detail on a story they can gather and try as much as possible to produce an accurate report only to find that there is the odd detail here and there that someone immersed in that countries culture would be able to pick out right away. That is always the difficulty of trying to report on issues happening in countries that are, simply, not the country you come from. I think that this leads to two ways a reporter can handle this, they can either focus exclusively on what is happening in their own country, or they can take the occasional intellectual thumping in order to gain a much more rounded exposure to issues happening “abroad” (in quotes due to nature of internet)

That leads us to this report from Naked Security which says that Canada is considering a bill that would pretty much eliminate due process and bring in surveillance that would make US-style surveillance seem like a fair and open transparent process.

As someone from Canada, you can predict what I thought when I first heard this. I thought, “Oh no. They are actually going ahead and tabling this again!”

So I read the article and it pointed to Bill C-52. I wondered if they actually kept the naming scheme to the point where they used the same numbers to boot. Since the legislation was linked in the article, it didn’t take long to discover that this was not current legislation, but rather, old legislation that died on the order paper after the last election. Just looking at the date of the first reading (November 1, 2010) kind of gave a good hint of that (and, if you’re a Canadian political junky, the part that says “Fortieth Parliament” is also a giveaway as the government is currently in the 41st parliament). Of course, if you’re not a Canadian and don’t tend to follow Canadian politics as closely as some who do reside in Canada, that might not be that obvious.

For the record, the surveillance legislation at the time (deceptively dubbed “Lawful Access”) was actually three bills – bill C-50, bill C-51 and, of course, bill C-52. It was complex and dealt with a lot of issues. Reading bill C-52 would technically only give you a sense of one third of what was being proposed. As you might be able to guess, like bill C-52, bills C-50 and C-51 also died on the order paper when an election was called. As I’ve suggested in various articles over the years, Canadians were actually saved from very bad legislation that would undermine civil liberties in the country.

The author of the article on Naked Security also defended himself by saying that this is what is being mulled in government right now. He didn’t say that it was necessarily tabled. This is technically true, but it’s also pushing it to say that the contents of Bill C-52 is precisely what is being mulled because that might suggest that it might be tabled separately.

I, personally, wouldn’t go so far as to assume that what was in Bill C-52 is exactly what the government is thinking of tabling next. This is partly because the speculation is that a lot of what was being considered in the Lawful Access legislation might be rolled in to an omnibus crime bill in the next session of parliament. The fear is that this crime bill will be pushed through quickly and in such a way that a lot of the inherent flaws of previous attempted legislation would wind up being muted.

This kind of concern was raised by experts featured in our previous report. In the open letter, the government was generally urged not to do anything hasty and ram surveillance legislation through – after all, it is a heavily contested area to begin with that practically pits ordinary Canadians against their own government.

We don’t really know what the specifics are in the crime bill. That’s what makes it difficult to argue on specifics. The best we can do is look at the previous legislation and beg the government not to destroy Canadian civil rights by reinserting the type of legislation found in the Lawful Access bills into the crime bill. Personally, I’m not holding my breath that Prime Minister Harper will respect basic civil rights and since Canada has a majority government, Harper pretty much rules with an iron fist for the next few years.

It’s actually quite hard to fault Naked Security because there’s not a whole lot the author did wrong that I can see. He looked up the legislation directly, linked to it, quoted relevant sections and had decent commentary on what was wrong with the legislation. These are all really good things to do in an article. In fact, he even brought in other examples from around the world to support his arguments which I think is always a bonus. In addition, he did raise awareness of matters of importance (and I’m happy that it’s on topics that are close to home in my neck of the woods). Of course, to draw from a science example, you could follow very solid methodology like the scientific method to the letter and wind up with results that are way out in left field.

I think that the author of Naked Security should continue to monitor what goes on here in Canada and not get discouraged by the feedback he got from one particular article. Fine, you could say his article might not be totally accurate or maybe even a bit misleading, but I don’t think it’s necessarily his fault. Give the guy a chance, he’s trying at least. Following international stuff isn’t really easy – believe me, I know.

[Via /.]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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