Privacy by Blue Coat Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Privacy by Blue Coat Photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Lawful Access is Back: How the Government Quietly Revived Canada’s Most Controversial Privacy Issue

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.


  1. If anyone has serious discussion points of interest to digital security (and tangentially privacy). The current public consultation on “cyber” security is taking place. If you’re reading this on October the 5th, you can still comment today at 2pm EDT on Facebook. After that, all comments must be submitted in writing through snail mail before the 15th of October.

    More information on this can be found at:

    • Sorry, you don’t _have_ to use snail mail, there is an online form you can fill out and you can also email comments directly. Just note the deadline and read the information at the link for further details.

  2. Sounds like a good thing, but you seem unsure if Goodale’s intentions are to make it worse!

    • From the perspective of someone who has been a user of the internet since its inception and have a love and appreciation for its social benefits, I can tell you that Godale’s intentions are indeed to make it worse.

  3. Pingback: Lost Confidence: Why Trust in Canadian Surveillance Agencies Has Been Irreparably Harmed - Michael Geist