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Thursday, July 14, 2011 

For Those Who Still Can't See That Harper Is Eroding Our Democracy And Personal Security ....

"Hidden deep within the federal government’s comprehensive bundle of crime legislation lies a bill that opponents claim will rob Canadians their right to online privacy as well as their cash.

During the last federal election campaign, Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed to combine 11 separate crime bills into one omnibus piece of legislation and pass it within 100 days of taking power should his Conservative Party win a majority.

Having achieved that victory on May 2, advocacy groups, digital policy experts and opposition Members of Parliament have since raised alarm bells over one provision of the catch-all crime bill in particular, known as “Lawful Access” legislation.

Lawful Access legislation, they argue, would require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to disclose customer information to law enforcement without court orders and to invest in new technologies allowing for real-time surveillance of their networks.

Critics argue the new legislation will grant police new powers to obtain access to that surveillance data.

“This legislation is going to be expensive, excessive and really it is quite bizarre in terms of the kind of warrantless surveillance [the government] wants to impose on Canadians,” said Steve Anderson, executive director of Vancouver-based advocacy group OpenMedia.ca.

“I think people are rightfully upset about that.”

More than 28,000 Canadians signed OpenMedia’s Stop Online Spying petition when the website first launched on Wednesday, more than any of the group’s previous petitions ever received on their first day. By comparison, nearly 500,000 people in total joined OpenMedia’s last major petition to oppose industry-wide usage-based billing (UBB) policies for Canadian Internet service.

“For all Canadians, [lawful access] will mean that a fundamental privacy principle will have been broken,” said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who holds the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce law.

“At the moment, our law is clear that mandatory disclosure of personal information requires court oversight. Lawful access will remove this requirement and require disclosure in some circumstances.”

Requiring ISPs to invest in new surveillance technologies to make real-time monitoring possible, which Mr. Anderson said will run into the “millions of dollars,” is another point of concern among the proposed law’s opponents.

“That cost will be passed on to us,” Mr. Anderson said.

“Either as consumers or taxpayers we will be subsidizing [an] invasion of our privacy.”

Critics contend that such laws will actually contribute very little to helping police apprehend suspected criminals.

“There has been no documented cases where police were not able to catch a criminal because they didn’t have this warrant-less, invasive surveillance,” said Mr. Anderson.

There was one instance Prof. Geist recalled when Peter Van Loan, former Public Safety Minister, raised a Vancouver kidnapping as an example of a crime that might have been solved had police been given the authority to monitor Canadian Internet users.

“But I launched an Access to Info request and found that it had nothing to do with the Internet,” he said.

In a letter sent to current Public Safety Minister Vic Toews on Friday, two Members of Parliament with the federal New Democratic Party joined OpenMedia’s coalition of more than 30 rights groups and various Privacy Commissioners urging the government to reconsider the implications of lawful access. Among other things, the two MPs contend the law would violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Allowing security services to engage in unchecked fishing expeditions on private citizens will certainly put individual rights and liberties at risk,” wrote Charlie Angus and Jasbir Sandhu, NDP digital issues and public safety critics, respectively.

“What is even more disturbing is the fact that the bill does not limit in any way the reasons for which an official or other security official might make such a demand.”

In a statement sent to the Financial Post via email Friday evening, a spokesperson from Public Safety Canada said the legislation follows similar policies recently adopted by other countries such as the United States, Australia, Germany and Sweden.

“The former Bill C-52, the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act, was created to help keep Canadians safe from those who would use communications technology in their pursuit of criminal or terrorist activities while not infringing on the Rights of law abiding Canadians,” the statement said.

“This Government is committed to providing law enforcement and national security agencies with the tools they need to prevent, investigate and prosecute serious crimes, including terrorism, in today’s modern and fast-paced technological environment.”

Financial Post

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