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    Public Safety Foreshadowed Rejection of MTS Allstream-Accelero With 2011 Foreign Investment Concerns

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    Tuesday October 08, 2013
    On the same day that revelations about CSEC spying on the Brazilian government for economic purposes generated headlines around the world, the Canadian government rejected the proposed acquisition of MTS Allstream's Allstream division by Accelero Capital Holdings, a company co-founded by Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire who first captured Canadian telecom attention by backing the entry of Wind Mobile. Industry Minister James Moore indicated that the rejection of the proposed deal involved the national security provisions of the Investment Canada Act. Both companies expressed disappointment with the decision, as MTS Allstream noted its surprise and disappointment and Accelero described it as an "unfounded and unexpected decision."

    While the decision sends a disturbing signal about the government's willingness to block foreign investment just months after indicating that it was open to such investment, it is worth noting that the change in telecom foreign investment policy was publicly opposed by the Public Safety Canada. In 2011, Public Safety responded to Industry Canada questions about changes to the foreign investment restrictions with the following:

    It is important to fully appreciate the scope of the potential impact of reducing or removing restrictions on foreign investment in Canada's telecommunications sector. The lessening of current restrictions could create new, and increase existing vulnerabilities in our telecommunications networks, further exposing them and the users and services that rely on them, to an increased threat of cyber espionage and denial of service attacks. It could also impede law enforcement and national security investigations by further challenging the ability of authorities to execute judicially authorized warrants to intercept telecommunications. As options are considered to maximize Canada's competitiveness in the telecommunications sector, Public Safety officials will work with Industry Canada to further develop options to help ensure that any change to the telecommunications market will be accompanied by necessary security safeguards.

    When the Public Safety submission first came to light last year, the potential application of the national security provisions in the Investment Canada Act was discussed. In light of the MTS Allstream decision, it would seem that Public Safety may have lost the battle to retain foreign investment restrictions, but has won the war to keep out many potential competitors.
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    Public Safety Shuffle Could Allow for an Internet Surveillance Restart

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    Tuesday August 21, 2012
    Appeared in the Toronto Star on August 19, 2012 as Public Safety Shuffle Could Allow for an Internet Surveillance Restart

     Sometime in the next few weeks, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is expected to be appointed to the Manitoba Court of Appeal. The Toews appointment is among the worst kept secrets in Ottawa, with the move causing a domino effect that will lead to a new minister and an opportunity for a fresh start on Internet surveillance legislation, one of the government's biggest political blunders to date.

    Toews infamously introduced the Internet surveillance bill, often referred to as lawful access, by stating that critics of the bill could either stand with the government or with child pornographers. The comments sparked outrage from across the political spectrum as Canadians questioned the need for the legislation, the lack of privacy safeguards, and the divisive communications strategy.

    Within days, the bill was dead in the water, stuck in political limbo with the government unwilling to place it on the House of Commons agenda to allow for a few hours of debate so it could be sent to committee for further study. The bill remained stuck at first reading for months, one of the few government bills to effectively die after introduction.

    With an upcoming opening at Public Safety, the government has at least two options. One approach is based on the premise that the controversy over the bill was due primarily to the messenger and not the substance of the bill. If the government determines that Toews was to blame, a new minister may simply tweak the communications strategy and push the bill through the legislative process.

    Alternatively, a new minister provides a convenient opportunity for an Internet surveillance restart. The change in ministers would allow the government to walk away from Bill C-30 since new ministers often seek to place their own stamp on department policies and priorities. A fresh approach could include scrapping the bill, launching a public consultation, or asking a House of Commons committee to study the issue before moving ahead with new legislation.

    The different lawful access possibilities are reminiscent of the public battle over copyright reform in 2007. After then Industry Minister Jim Prentice faced a public backlash over planned legislation, the government delayed introducing the copyright bill just hours before it was to have been tabled. The bill sat on the notice paper for six months as an internal debate raged over whether to introduce it largely unchanged (but with a new communications strategy) or to scrap it and go back to the drawing board.

    The government opted for the first option, introducing the bill in June 2008. The bill faced the expected criticism and died soon thereafter. With a change in minister - Tony Clement became Industry minister after a fall election - the government started over, beginning with a national copyright consultation in 2010.

    Several years later, the government faces many of the same political and policy dynamics with an unpopular Internet bill and questions about whether it can be saved. While it may be politically tempting to stay the course with a new minister, the better approach would be to start over.

    Dropping Bill C-30 would send a strong signal that the government is prepared to re-examine the issue, starting with a full public consultation on how to best balance the need for online security with the public interest of appropriate privacy safeguards.

    Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

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    Canadian Privacy Gets Toews-ed Again: Why a PIA on Airport Eavesdropping Isn't Good Enough

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    Wednesday June 20, 2012
    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.

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    Bill C-30 Isn't Dead Yet: Public Safety Allocates Millions for Lawful Access

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    Wednesday May 09, 2012
    The Public Safety Report on Plans and Priorities for the coming year include a commitment to advance lawful access legislation and an allocation of $2.1 million specifically earmarked for the issue.
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