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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The government’s gift to the recording industry wrapped up yesterday as Bill C-59 received royal assent and with it, the term of copyright for sound recordings was extended from 50 to 70 years. I’ve chronicled in detail how the extension of the copyright term without public consultation or discussion hurts Canadian consumers, reduces competition, and is a direct result of record label lobbying (surprise, cost to consumers, limited competition, reduced access to Canadian heritage, lobbying impact).
As an added bonus, groups have started to use the extension to argue that the government should also extend the term of copyright for authors from the current term of life plus an additional 50 years to life plus 70 years. Randy Bachman has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail today calling for a copyright term extension that must be read to be believed. The piece was not only a day late (he calls for the government to extend term in the same budget bill that already received royal assent), but contains some of the most absurd claims about copyright in recent memory.
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A budget implementation bill is an unlikely – and many would say inappropriate – place to make major changes to Canadian privacy law. Yet Bill C-59, the government’s 158-page bill that is set to sweep through the House of Commons, does just that.
The omnibus budget bill touches on a wide range of issues, including copyright term extension and retroactive reforms to access to information laws. But there are also privacy amendments that have received little attention. In fact, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was not even granted the opportunity to appear before the committee that “studied” the bill, meaning that privacy was not discussed nor analyzed (the committee devoted only two sessions to external witnesses for study, meaning most issues were glossed over).
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that the bill raises at least three privacy-related concerns. First, the retroactive reforms to access to information, which are designed to backdate the application of privacy and access to information laws to data from the long-gun registry, has implications for the privacy rights of Canadians whose data is still contained in the registry. By backdating the law, the government is effectively removing the privacy protections associated with that information.
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The government’s decision to extend the term of copyright for sound recordings to 70 years appears set to pass through the Standing Committee on Finance with practically no debate or analysis. The committee will conduct its clause-by-clause review later today and there is no reason to believe that any changes will be made to the copyright provisions. The committee has conducted extremely limited hearings with only one witness invited to discuss the copyright extension: Graham Henderson, the President of Music Canada (formerly the Canadian Recording Industry Association).
Given the previously released personal letter from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Henderson on the day of the budget confirming the copyright extension, along with the extensive lobbying on the issue by his organization, it comes as little surprise to find that Henderson was the sole witness invited to appear on the issue as the entire policy change has been driven by record industry lobbying. Yet as Henderson invoked Paul Anka – an accomplished songwriter who undoubtedly generates more revenue from his works that will remain under copyright for many more decades than from sound recordings – the committee heard only press release style comments on the benefits of the change with background documents that cited no specific studies nor hard data about the impact of the reforms.
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The government’s omnibus budget implementation bill (Bill C-59) has attracted attention for its inclusion of copyright term extension for sound recordings and the retroactive changes to the Access to Information Act. Another legislative reform buried within the bill is a significant change to PIPEDA, Canada’s private sector privacy law. The bill adds a new Schedule 4 to PIPEDA, which allows the government to specify organizations in the schedule to which PIPEDA applies. Bill C-59 immediately adds one organization: the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which is based in Montreal.
The change to PIPEDA is designed to address European criticism that WADA is not subject to privacy laws that meet the adequacy standard under EU law. WADA is currently subject to Quebec’s private sector privacy law, which meets the “substantial similarity” standard under Canadian law, but has not received an adequacy finding from Europe. In June 2014, the EU Working Party that examines these issues released an opinion that raised several concerns with the provincial law. The goal of the criticism appears to be to deem Montreal unfit to host WADA and transfer its offices to Europe. The Canadian government wants to stop the privacy criticisms by deeming PIPEDA applicable to WADA. Since PIPEDA has received an adequacy finding, presumably the hope is that the legislative change will address the European concerns.
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