For the second time this year, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has found himself at the centre of a major privacy backlash. In February, Toews was the lead on Bill C-30, the Internet surveillance legislation that sparked a huge public outcry that forced the government to shelve the bill within ten days. While Toews maintains the legislation will return (and implausibly argues that it could have assisted in the Magnotta investigation), it hasn’t moved in months.
The toxic connection between Toews and privacy escalated over the weekend with a report that Canada Border Services has installed surveillance equipment in the Ottawa airport that will allow for eavesdropping on traveller conversations. The report led to immediate questions in the House of Commons with Toews defending the practices and even revealing that the eavesdropping activities may be more extensive than initially reported. A day later, Toews was backtracking, announcing that the eavesdropping plans were on hold pending a review from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
That’s a start (the federal commissioner’s office expressed concern that no privacy impact assessment (PIA) has been filed), but frankly it isn’t nearly good enough to address the privacy concerns associated with this issue.