Opposition to Canada’s Impending Surveillance Legislation Grows

The Canadian governing party – the Conservatives – are planning an omnibus crime bill that would include surveillance legislation. While the bill is not yet tabled, opposition to this bill is mounting.

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

There has been suggestions that the Canadian surveillance legislation long promised, but never passes, may be bundled in to an omnibus crime bill and tabled soon. For those following this story closely, that isn’t exactly news. What is news, however, is that experts, academics and organizations, among others, have stepped up to formally oppose such legislation.

An open letter was recently sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing their concerns about such legislation. They cite previous bills that made up the surveillance legislation in the last government session and voiced their concerns about them.

The letter (PDF) opens, “We are writing to you regarding your promise to introduce and pass within 100 days an omnibus bill incorporating a number of very different pieces of legislation.”

The letter continues, “We are particularly concerned that three of those bills will have serious negative implications for the privacy rights of Canadians, and that these aspects will not receive the scrutiny they deserve if rolled into an omnibus bill.”

“These pieces of legislation were former Bills C‐50, C‐51 and C‐52 from the last session of the previous Parliament, the ‘lawful access’ technical surveillance bills. We join Canada’s federal and provincial Privacy Commissioners in voicing our grave concerns regarding this invasive legislative mandate, as they collectively did in a letter to Deputy Minister of Public Safety dated March 9, 2011.”

Their main focus of concern:

– The ease by which Canadians’ Internet service providers, social networks, and even their handsets and cars will be turned into tools to spy on their activities further to production and preservation orders in former Bill C‐51 — a form of spying that is bound to have serious chilling effects on online activity and communications, implicating fundamental rights and freedoms;
– The minimal and inadequate amount of external oversight in place to ensure that the powers allotted in these bills are not abused;
– Clause 16 of former Bill C‐52, which will allow law enforcement to force identification of anonymous online Internet users, even where there is no reason to suspect the information will be useful to any investigation and without adequate court oversight; and
– The manner in which former Bill C‐52 paves the way to categorical secrecy orders that will further obscure how the sweeping powers granted in it are used and that are reminiscent of elements of the USA PATRIOT Act that were found unconstitutional.

The letter also contains a highly detailed list of concerns in the appendix section. The letter also warns that the costs of implementing such surveillance measures would ultimately be passed on to consumers since it is a new cost of doing business for ISPs. Indeed, this type of thing has precedent. In France, when the French government forced ISPs to adopt a three strikes law, the ISPs simply passed the costs of maintaining the warning system on to consumers.

The letter was signed by the following:

Andrea Slane, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Faculty of Social Science & Humanities
Andrew Clement, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information
British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BCFIPA)
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Canadian Federation of Students (CFS)
Christopher Parsons, University of Victoria, Department of Political Science
Civil Liberties Association — National Capitol Region (CLA—NCR)
Colin Bennett, University of Victoria, Department of Political Science
David Lyon, FRSC, Queen’s University, Surveillance Studies Centre
Ian Kerr, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG)
Kate Milberry, University of Toronto, Faculty of Information
Leslie Shade, Concordia University, Department of Communications Studies
Lisa Austin, University of Toronto, Faculty of Law
Michael Geist, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
Michael Markwick, Simon Fraser University, School of Communications
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
Samuelson‐Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Sharon Polsky, President, AMINACorp.ca; National Chair, Canadian Association of Professional
Access & Privacy Administrators (CAPAPA)
Teresa Scassa, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
Valerie Steeves, University of Ottawa, Department of Criminology

I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic, but I think that there is one key difference between when Canadians fought very dangerous bills in the past and now. That key difference is the fact that the Conservatives have a majority government. That means that they can pass whatever bills they want without any fear of opposition. So, it wouldn’t matter how much evidence or reason you present the government, Harper will simply legislate how he likes. If it drives the country in to the dark ages, it wouldn’t matter because he has the power to stop any opposing voice on different debates as far as passing legislation is concerned. That’s just the government Canada is stuck with. My personal hope is that Canada will have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms before Harper’s term is up – or, at least a few shreds of it still intact.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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