Four years ago, Edward Snowden shocked the world with a series of surveillance disclosures that forced many to rethink basic assumptions about the privacy of online activities in light of NSA actions. In the years that have followed, we have learned much more about the role of other countries – including Canada – in similar activities (often in partnership with the NSA). The legality and oversight over these cyber-related programs fell into a murky area, with legal challenges over metadata programs, court decisions that questioned whether Canadian agencies were offside the law, the hurriedly drafted Bill C-51 that sparked widespread criticism, and concern over the oversight and review process that many viewed as inadequate.
Yesterday, the Liberal government unveiled Bill C-59, the first genuine attempt to overhaul Canadian surveillance and security law in decades. The bill is large and complicated, requiring months of study to fully assess its implications (reactions from Forcese/Roach, BCCLA, CBC, Wark, Amnesty). At first glance, however, it addresses some of the core criticisms of the Conservatives’ Bill C-51 and a legal framework that had struggled to keep pace with emerging technologies. Leading the way is an oversight super-structure that replaces the previous silo approach that often left commissioners with inadequate resources and legal powers. The government has promised to spend millions of dollars to give the new oversight structure the resources it needs alongside legal powers that grant better and more effective review of Canadian activities.
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Law enforcement efforts to revive lawful access reform continue to face political and public opposition. Earlier this month, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security recommended that the current approach remain unchanged. Indeed, Committee Chair Rob Oliphant said that police sought expanded powers, but that the argument was not yet “compelling.”
Public Safety’s report released last week on responses to its national consultation on security indicates that the broader public agrees. The issue drew the majority of feedback during the consultation:
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The federal government has yet to release its response to last year’s national security consultation, but at least one thing is increasingly apparent. Lawful access, the regulations that govern police access to Internet and telecom subscriber information, will be back on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s legislative agenda. My Globe and Mail column notes that the details of the complex new rules that would grant warrantless access to some telecom and Internet information system are still a work-in-progress, but the final outcome is sure to raise concerns with the privacy advocates as well as telecom and Internet providers.
A cybercrime working group comprised of senior officials from federal, provincial and territorial governments have spent months developing the new lawful access framework. It recently held two invitation-only consultations on the issue with Canadian telecom and Internet companies as well as civil society groups and academic experts. I participated in the latter event, which was held under Chatham House rules that allow for disclosure of the content of the meeting without attribution to specific commentators.
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The controversial issue of lawful access rules, which address questions of police use of Internet subscriber information and interception capabilities at Canadian telecom companies, has long been played down by Canadian governments. When policy proposals first emerged in the early 2000s, the Liberal government focused on the anti-terrorism and anti-spam benefits. Subsequent Conservative proposals promoted the ability to combat child pornography, and most recently, cyber-bullying.
Yet when the Conservatives passed lawful access legislation in late 2014, it seemed that more than a decade of debate had delivered a typical Canadian compromise. The new legislation eliminated liability concerns for Internet providers who voluntarily disclose basic subscriber information and created a series of new police powers to require preservation and access to digital data.
Notwithstanding the legislative resolution and renewed legal certainty, my new tech law column at the Globe and Mail notes that Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has quietly revived the lawful access debate with a public consultation that raises the prospect of new rules that would effectively scrap the 2014 compromise. Ironically, the focus this time is the public demand for amendments to Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism law that sparked widespread criticism and calls for reform during last year’s election campaign.
In other words, the Canadian privacy balance is being placed at risk by a policy initiative that purports to fix privacy. Read the full column here.
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Three years ago this month, Edward Snowden shocked the world with a series of disclosures that revealed a myriad of U.S. government-backed surveillance programs. The Snowden revelations sparked a global debate over how to best strike the balance between privacy and security and led to demands for greater telecom transparency.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the initial Canadian response to the surveillance debate was muted at best. Many Canadians assumed that the Snowden disclosures were largely about U.S. activities. That raised concerns about Canadian data being caught within the U.S. surveillance dragnet, but it did not necessarily implicate the Canadian government in the activities.
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