The government yesterday introduced Bill C-44, the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act. While some were expecting significant new surveillance, decreased warrant thresholds, and detention measures, this bill is a response to several court decisions, not to the attacks last week in Ottawa and Quebec. A second bill – which might use the U.K. legislative response to terror attacks as a model – is a future possibility, but policy decisions, cabinet approval, legal drafting, and constitutional reviews take time.
Bill C-44, which was to have been tabled on the day of the Ottawa attack, responds to two key issues involving CSIS, Canada’s domestic intelligence agency. The first involves a federal court case from late last year in which Justice Richard Mosley, a federal court judge, issued a stinging rebuke to Canada’s intelligence agencies (CSEC and CSIS) and the Justice Department, ruling that they misled the court when they applied for warrants to permit the interception of electronic communications. Mosley’s concern stemmed from warrants involving two individuals that were issued in 2009 permitting the interception of communications both in Canada and abroad using Canadian equipment. At the time, the Canadian intelligence agencies did not disclose that they might ask their foreign counterparts (namely the “five eyes” partners in the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand) to intercept the foreign communications.
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Two shocking terror attacks on Canadian soil, one striking at the very heart of the Canadian parliament buildings and both leaving behind dead soldiers. Office buildings, shopping centres, and classrooms placed under lockdown for hours with many confronting violence first hand that is rarely associated with Canada.
Last week’s terror events will leave many searching for answers and seeking assurances from political and security leaders that they will take steps to prevent it from happening again. There will be an obvious temptation to look to the law to “fix” the issue, and if the past is a guide, stronger anti-terror legislation and warnings that Canadians may need to surrender more of their privacy and civil liberties in the name of greater security will soon follow.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that if there are legal solutions that would help foster better security, they should unquestionably be considered. Yet Canada should proceed with caution and recognize that past experience suggests that the unintended consequences that may arise from poorly analyzed legislation may do more harm than good.
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Earlier this month, a political storm hit in Canada when it was revealed that the government was considering including a new copyright exception for political advertising in its forthcoming omnibus budget bill. The reports sparked claims of fascism, censorship, expropriation, and more, yet as I argued, the commentary bore almost no relationship to reality. There were legitimate concerns about an exception made solely available to politicians and political parties as well as doubts about the need for such an exception given the breadth of the current fair dealing exception that already permits most uses of video clips.
Yesterday, the government tabled its omnibus budget bill, which contains changes to the Patent Act (to bring Canada into compliance with the Patent Law Treaty), effectively ban paper billing charges for telecom and broadcast services, and grant new enforcement powers to the CRTC. As for the copyright reform provision, perhaps the public outcry had an impact. It is nowhere to be found.
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Bill S-4, the government’s Digital Privacy Act, was sent for review to the Industry Committee yesterday. The committee review, which comes before second reading, represents what is likely to be the last opportunity to fix a bill that was supposed to be a good news story for the government but has caused serious concern within the Canadian privacy community. While there are several concerns (I raised them in my appearance before the Senate committee that first studied the bill), the chief one involves the potential expansion of voluntary disclosure of personal information without consent or court oversight. Bill S-4 proposes that:
“an organization may disclose personal information without the knowledge or consent of the individual… if the disclosure is made to another organization and is reasonable for the purposes of investigating a breach of an agreement or a contravention of the laws of Canada or a province that has been, is being or is about to be committed and it is reasonable to expect that disclosure with the knowledge or consent of the individual would compromise the investigation;
Translate the legalese and you find that organizations will be permitted to disclose personal information without consent (and without a court order) to any organization that is investigating a contractual breach or possible violation of any law. This applies both past breaches or violations as well as potential future violations. Moreover, the disclosure occurs in secret without the knowledge of the affected person (who therefore cannot challenge the disclosure since they are not aware it is happening).
The government is clearly aware that this is a major concern as it attempted to answer the critics during debate over Bill S-4 in the House of Commons yesterday. Unfortunately, the responses were incredibly weak. I’ve identified at least six responses from government sources below.
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The Internet Association, a U.S.-based industry association that counts most of the biggest names in the Internet economy as its members (including Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, and Yahoo), recently released a policy paper on how Canada could become more competitive in the digital economy. The report’s recommendations on tax reform generated some attention, but buried within the 27-page report was a call for patent reform.
The Internet giants warned against patent trolling, which refers to instances when companies that had no involvement in the creation or invention of a patent demand licences or other payments from legitimate companies by relying on dubious patents. Studies indicate that patent trolling has a negative impact on economic growth and innovation and is a particularly big problem in the U.S., which tends to be more litigious than Canada.
Given those concerns, the Internet Association urged the Canadian government to enact reforms to “limit the ability of non-practicing entities [a euphemism for patent trolls] of exploiting patents to make unreasonable demands of productive companies and prevent crippling damage awards.”
While the Canadian government has yet to respond publicly to the recommendations, my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) reports that according to documents recently obtained under the Access to Information Act, earlier this year Industry Minister James Moore launched a series of private consultations with Canadian business on intellectual property issues. The government came prepared to engage directly on the patent trolling issue, going so far as to identify several potential policy measures. Yet it was Canadian business that discouraged Moore from taking action, warning against the “unintended consequences” of patent reforms.
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