Privacy battle heats up over three controversial bills that allow more snooping
I think we all remember the fight against the Harper government's Bill C-30, the so-called online surveillance bill.
Bill C-30, introduced by the then public safety minister Vic Toews in February 2012, would have given police, in some instances, access to information about Canadians' online behaviour — with limited judicial oversight — via internet service provider (ISPs) records
The legislation resulted in widespread backlash from the public and the government retreated. Toews even became the target of a massive online campaign which publicized details of his nasty divorce proceedings.
Well, maybe this is round two?
The Harper government has served notice that Parliament will work extra hours ahead of the summer recess to get through its agenda. On the docket are three controversial bills — Bills S-4, C-13 and C-31 — which critics say will reduce our privacy by giving police and other authorities more snooping powers.
S-4, Canada's private sector privacy law, aims to update digital privacy laws. But as explained by University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist here, "the bill also includes a provision that could massively expand warrantless disclosure of personal information."
Bill C-13 is supposed to be a cyberbullying law but critics argue will grant legal immunity to telecoms who hand over customers’ private information without a warrant. The opposition parties are And C-31, as explained by the Globe and Mail, is a budget implementation bill that "allows the Canada Revenue Agency to hand over a person’s tax information to police, without a warrant or charge having been laid."
NDP MP Charlie Angus portrays the new Tory legislation as a "widespread" attack on privacy rights.
"There is a full-out assault with this suite of legislation that...is pushing us beyond the independent reports of the privacy commissioner," Angus said at a press conference on Parliament Hill.
"Since they had the Vic Toews attack on privacy rights, this government has been nursing its wounds and they're coming back for round two."
On Monday the New Democrats called on the Conservatives to convene a Blue Ribbon Panel of independent experts to investigate warrantless data collection by the Feds.
"This would be an offer to the prime minister to say cool your jets, reassure Canadians that you actually do care about basic constitutional rights to privacy in this country, appoint an independent panel and let's hear what they have to say," Angus said.
"We’re all for catching terrorists, we’re all for going after bullies but we can do it in a balanced way that also respects privacy and doesn’t open the door to abuse."
For their part, the Tories continue to defend the bills, saying that they do strike a balance by protecting Canadians and their privacy.
asking the government to split the bill so that the cyberbullying elements of the bill can pass without protest. Meanwhile, the bills — along with revelations about Communications Security Establishment Canada allegedly spying on Canadians and red flags about a million cases of warrantless snooping on the internet and telephone use — have buoyed the resolve of privacy advocacy groups like OpenMedia.ca.
That group, which was very active fighting against Toews' bill, has recently banded with over 50 academics and organizations to write the "Ottawa Statement" which sets out high-level recommendations aimed at putting a stop to blanket government spying on innocent Canadians.
They've also started a "pro-privacy coalition" and a petition.
"I think the momentum [against these bills] is really starting to build now. What was a long simmering rumble of discontent has really turn into much more of a wave now," David Christopher, communications manager of OpenMedia.ca, told Yahoo Canada News.
"I think if I was in government, I'd be looking at this thinking it's going to be one hell of a political price to pay with an election just around the corner. Canadians...are really concerned about this."
This certainly is starting to feel a lot like round two.