Déjà Vu: Canadian Government Says It Will Move Forward With Bill C-27 (Privacy Reform)

The Canadian government is, once again, saying that they will move ahead with privacy reform after more than 5 years of foot dragging.

In a move that is all too familiar now, the Canadian government has said that it will move forward with privacy reform. The move comes as the government pretended to care about people’s personal privacy and security and moved to ban TikTok on government devices. To this day, we haven’t seen an actual explanation of what those privacy and security concerns are. Following the seemingly arbitrary move, TikTok sent an open letter asking the government what those concerns are – showing that they are equally in the dark about this as everyone else at this point.

Of course, the common response from people familiar with digital rights issues (including us) is where the heck is Canada’s privacy reform legislation. After all, such a reform bill could standardize handling of personal information including where information can be stored, a basic level of encryption, and holding companies accountable when such personal information is misused. As of now, Canada is very poorly equipped to handle privacy issues. The current privacy laws only allow the privacy commissioners to publish strongly worded letters and ask politely for information. This as personal information continues to be misused to this day, ruining a number of lives in the process.

Well, now the Canadian government has, once again, said that it will move forward with privacy reform. From the National Post:

The Liberal government will move ahead with its bill updating Canada’s privacy laws when the House of Commons resumes Monday, amidst ongoing worries over data collection by Chinese-owned app TikTok.

The government will schedule the bill for debate at second reading once the House returns from a two-week break Monday. Following second reading, legislation moves to a House committee study for the next step of the parliamentary process.

“It’s high time the government moved Bill C-27 forward,” said Brenda McPhail, director of the privacy, technology and surveillance program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

So, will this time be different? That’s much more difficult to say.

After all, during the 2019 general election, privacy reform received broad party support. This was a year after Europe passed privacy reform and Canada was left playing catch-up for a year by that time.

After the election was over, Canadian privacy reform was tabled and, coincidentally enough, was known as Bill C-11. Of course, at the time, the Liberal Party was trying to project the image that they have changed and that they are a brand new Liberal party and not the pay-for-access corrupt beyond all recognition, and entitled political party from back in the day. What’s more, they also were projecting this image that they are a forward thinking tech friendly party.

Of course, if there is one thing big Canadian businesses hate, it’s accountability. As a result, they initiated a massive lobbying campaign to put a stop to privacy reform of any kind. Since pay-for-access, corruption and entitlement has always been part of the Liberal Party DNA, the Liberal party listened to those shoving money their way.

In response, they ejected their famed “digital policy” agenda and, instead, began pushing an anti-internet and anti-innovation agenda in favour of the powers that be. Bolstering network neutrality, getting fairness in the cell phone and internet market, broadband access in rural and indigenous communities, privacy, and more were out. Cracking down on the internet and digital rights was in.

As a result, privacy reform was left to linger and fall by the wayside. Progress was slow to non-existent as it became a governmental dust collector. Provinces were left figuring out how to go it alone thanks to this lack of leadership on this file. The legislation ultimately died on the order due to rampant neglect within government. The election was called and Canada would go, at least, another year without proper government privacy protections.

During the 2021 election, privacy reform received broad party support. Everyone knew that this legislation is needed and needed badly. Unfortunately, neglect had led us to that moment in time where parties were once again saying that they wanted to do something about this finally.

When the 2021 election was over, the Liberal party quickly shelved the plans for privacy reform and effectively declared that their war on the internet was back on. The messaging was clear. The internet, freedom of expression, innovation, and more had become public enemy number one and the Canadian government’s top priority was to crack down on it fast and hard. No doubt this was to the applause of lobbyists and corporations who have long wished the internet would just go away on its own. Either way, the government was paid by lobbyists to hate the internet, and hating the internet is exactly what the Liberals were going to do.

Of course, the problem of Canada’s terrible state of privacy laws were never going to go away. Shortly after, a Canadian spy agency warned the government that attacks are on the rise. It was a wakeup call, but the government chose to hit the snooze button. Later on, Newfoundland suffered a major hack. Once again, this served as a massive wakeup call that privacy laws needed reform. The Canadian government, once again, hit the snooze button.

At the end of 2021, facing significant questions as to why the Canadian government wasn’t doing anything, Innovation Minister, François-Philippe Champagne, said that privacy reform was his “top priority“. This led some large journalism outlets to foolishly believe that privacy reform was just around the corner. Obviously, we knew better and were skeptical that the minister was actually doing to get off his lazy butt and do something about this. Our skepticism turned out to be right. No privacy reform bill was forthcoming at the time.

This led us to point out that, in an age where money is increasingly becoming difficult to come by, Canada had effectively left billions on the table by not bothering with privacy reform. After all, fines against businesses that refuse to actually do something about privacy reform do add up after a while and businesses are, for the most part, fiercely resistant to actually doing anything other than make public statements about privacy reform. Still, the government continued to hit the snooze button.

Others began to, understandably, lose patience over this ridiculous situation. By May, Open Media circulated a petition to get the government moving on privacy reform. The Canadian government claimed that the bill was being worked on when faced with questions, but the government had nothing to show for it. Then, in June, the Canadian government finally introduced bill C-27. The legislation left many observers giving a collective “WTF?” because, after all of this time, few changes were made outside of a handful of language tweaks. If anything, the Canadian government blew the dust off of the bill and tabled it.

While some had remained hopeful that this would finally be the turning point, the privacy reform bill then returned to doing what it has done a lot of – collect dust. With only two debates to show for it, the Canadian government continued to drag its feet on this legislation.

Late last month, I pointed out, somewhat jokingly, that the government lost its privacy reform bill. When the TikTok story blew up in the media due to massive amounts of hand wringing and hyperventilating, people such as myself pointed out that Bill C-27 could have saved the government a lot of headache, but years of foot dragging has meant that the government was completely taken off guard in all of this. What’s more, the years of foot dragging also showed that the Canadian government was not actually serious about privacy and security of people’s personal information.

There’s a reason why I consider the state of Canadian privacy a sorry joke. What’s more, there is a reason why I think the Canadian government isn’t serious about the privacy and security of Canadian’s personal information. You tell me that after all of the above and more that the Canadian government is totally committed to privacy ans security. Now, that foot dragging has come back and bit the Canadian government. Will this time be different? It’s hard to say. After all, Canadian businesses really don’t like accountability, so they are no doubt preparing another round of lobbying to stop privacy reform in its tracks.

If anything, the Canadian government might move the legislation forward a few steps before letting it linger again when they feel the heat is off. If they well and truly move this legislation forward in any serious fashion, it would break 5 years worth of habit of letting the bill die and pretending to care when it comes to garnering votes during the elections. In my view, even though it’s currently hurting the Liberals politically that they didn’t reform privacy laws sooner, the odds that they actually seriously reform privacy laws are low. Would be happy to be proven wrong, but the track records do speak volumes about the state we are in today.

(Via @Mgeist@Mast.to)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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