Surveillance: America's Pastime by Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: naixn, Jason Smith / feastoffun.com) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 93: Lex Gill on the RCMP, Clearview AI and Canada’s History of Surveillance
Earlier this month, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a scathing report on the RCMP’s use of facial recognition technology, particularly its work with Clearview AI. The report was particularly damaging as the Commissioner found that the RCMP wasn’t truthful when it said it didn’t work with Clearview AI and then gave inaccurate information on the number of uses when it was revealed that it did. In fact, even after these findings, the RCMP still rejected the Privacy Commissioner’s findings that it violated the Privacy Act.
Lex Gill is a Montreal-based lawyer where she is an affiliate at the Citizen Lab and teaches at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. She has also worked at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. She joins the podcast to discuss the Commissioner’s findings and to explain why this is best viewed as part of a long cycle of surveillance that has often targeted social movements or vulnerable populations.
The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 64: “You’re Seeing the Breakup of the Web” – Anupam Chander on the Battle over TikTok
TikTok has found itself at the centre of a global geo-political fight between the United States and China. U.S. President Donald Trump, citing privacy, censorship, and national security concerns, first declared his plan to ban the app from the country and later followed up with an Executive Order prohibiting commercial activities with TikTok after a 45 day implementation period. What does the battle over TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps mean for their users and for the future of an open and accessible Internet? Anupam Chander, a law professor at Georgetown University and leading expert on the global regulation of new technologies, joins the podcast to explain the recent developments, unpack the legal issues, and assess the broader geo-political implications.
The LawBytes Podcast, Episode 44: Michael Birnhack on Israel’s Use of Cellphone Tracking to Combat the Spread of Coronavirus
With experts warning that the Coronavirus pandemic may last well into next year, the urgency of limiting the spread of the virus is sure to increase. Cellphone and social media data will increasingly be viewed as a valuable source of information for public health authorities, as they seek to identify outbreaks in communities more quickly, rapidly warn people that they may have been exposed to the virus, or enforce quarantining orders. Israel has implemented a system that involves the collection and use of cellphone location data to identify at-risk individuals, who may receive text messages warning that they need to self-quarantine. That system has been challenged at the Israeli Supreme Court, which last week rejected elements of the plan and established a requirement of Israeli parliament approval for the measures. Tel Aviv University law professor Michael Birnhack joins me on the podcast to discuss the details of the measures and the civil liberties and democratic concerns they raise, even at a time of global crisis.
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.
In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in which the public has become largely numb to new surveillance disclosures, the Canadian reports over the past week will still leave many shocked and appalled. It started with the Ontario Provincial Police mass text messaging thousands of people based on cellphone usage from nearly a year earlier (which is not government surveillance per se but highlights massive geo-location data collection by telecom carriers and extraordinary data retention periods), continued with the deeply disturbing reports of surveillance of journalists in Quebec (which few believe is limited to just Quebec) and culminated in yesterday’s federal court decision that disclosed that CSIS no longer needs warrants for tax records (due to Bill C-51) and took the service to task for misleading the court and violating the law for years on its metadata collection and retention program.
The ruling reveals a level of deception that should eliminate any doubts that the current oversight framework is wholly inadequate and raises questions about Canadian authorities commitment to operating within the law. The court found a breach of a “duty of candour” (which most people would typically call deception or lying) and raises the possibility of a future contempt of court proceeding. While CSIS attempted to downplay the concern by noting that the data collection in question – metadata involving a wide range of information used in a massive data analysis program – was collected under a court order, simply put, the court found that the retention of the data was illegal. Further, the amount of data collection continues to grow (the court states the “scope and volume of incidentally gathered information has been tremendously enlarged”), leading to the retention of metadata that is not part of an active investigation but rather involves non-threat, third party information. In other words, it is precisely the massive, big data metadata analysis program feared by many Canadians.