INDEPENDENT MEDIA by David Christopher
Six months ago, we argued that Canadians faced a stark privacy deficit – a perfect storm of spy agency surveillance, privacy-undermining legislation and lax privacy safeguards at government departments, sparking concern from citizens right across the political spectrum.
Sadly, the situation has further deteriorated. The government’s surveillance Bill C-13 became law. The Supreme Court ruled that police don’t require a warrant to search the cell phones of people they arrest. The private tax information of hundreds of Canadians was leaked to the CBC. And the government is building a powerful new system to collect and analyze what Canadians are saying on Facebook.
These developments have prompted debate about what it will take to truly safeguard Canadians’ privacy in a digital age. Our organization has spent the past few months crowdsourcing ideas from Canadians and it’s clear a great deal can be done to tackle our privacy deficit:
1. Stronger warrant requirements: Government authorities have long been expected to obtain a search warrant to access citizens’ sensitive, personal information. Recent developments have undermined this safeguard, including lower warrant thresholds in Bill C-13, the Supreme Court’s recent cell phone privacy ruling and the government’s Bill C-44, which makes Canadians living overseas vulnerable to surveillance.
Future privacy legislation should require a warrant for government authorities to monitor the personal information of Canadians at home or overseas. This common sense step would significantly strengthen privacy protection for all Canadians.
2. End the mass collection of metadata: Thanks to Edward Snowden, we’ve learned the “Five Eyes” spy alliance, of which Canada’s CSEC is a key part, collects deeply revealing communications metadata on a mass scale. To safeguard privacy, we need legislation to prevent agencies like CSEC obtaining Canadians’ metadata without a warrant or court order. (https://openmedia.ca/csecandyou)
3. Oversight and review of spy agencies: The Snowden revelations have also focused attention on the lack of effective oversight to hold spy agencies accountable to Parliament. Liberal MP Joyce Murray and Conservative Senator Hugh Segal have each proposed stronger powers of oversight and review over CSEC’s activities. These steps would bring Canada into line with its global counterparts and should form part of any future pro-privacy legislation.
4. Tightening voluntary disclosure rules: There has been a lot of concern about telecom providers ‘voluntarily’ disclosing personal information about their customers to governments and other entities. In a landmark win for privacy, the Supreme Court ruled last June that government agents need a warrant to obtain this information. However, the government’s Bill S-4 could see Canadians’ personal information disclosed without any oversight, to third parties, including US copyright trolls. This loophole must be closed.
5. Accountability for privacy breaches: Privacy breaches at government departments have become worryingly commonplace, affecting over 725,000 Canadians, including high-profile figures like Margaret Atwood and Jean Chretien. New safeguards should require government agents at all levels to document all activities, decisions and processes that could impact the privacy of Canadians.
These proposals should form the core ingredients of any future legislation that purports to safeguard the digital privacy of Canadians. This is a practical agenda, but given the power of entrenched security bureaucracies, it will require significant political will to implement.
That said, it’s an election year and decision-makers in all parties have a clear incentive to take a pro-privacy stance. Voters should be wary of politicians who “talk the talk” on privacy without committing to the concrete steps detailed above.
We’ll continue to work alongside the large, non-partisan Protect our Privacy Coalition to ensure Canadians have the strong privacy safeguards they deserve.
Learn more at http://ourprivacy.ca
Steve Anderson is the executive director of OpenMedia.ca, a community-based organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open Internet. David Christopher is the communications manager at OpenMedia.ca. A version of this piece originally appeared in the CCPA Monitor. www.policyalternatives.ca/monitor/index.php