Federal “lawful access” bills concern B.C. privacy commissioner
B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner says Canadians should be worried about the anticipated reintroduction of federal legislation that will give police and government spies broader powers to snoop on citizens.
“That turns our whole system of rights on its head, because we have the right of personal privacy,” Elizabeth Denham told the Straight in a phone interview. “We have the right to free speech, and it’s the government that has to make the case when they intrude upon these rights.”
Denham was referring to bills C-50, C-51, and C-52, which died on the order paper when the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper was defeated on March 25, triggering a federal election.
With a majority mandate, the Harper government is expected to introduce and approve a bundle of anticrime-related legislation within its first 100 days in office, including proposals that will enhance the state’s capacity to spy on its own citizens without a court warrant.
These will give the police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Competition Bureau greater powers to intercept online communications and gather information about Internet users. The legislation will also allow law-enforcement authorities to remotely activate tracking devices found in mobile phones and GPS devices in cars.
“What’s at stake is surveillance of their personal information, particularly their access to the Internet, without their knowledge and without judicial oversight,” Denham said about the potential impact of these measures on citizens’ rights.
Previous federal Liberal governments have also tried to introduce such measures, and groups like the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association have opposed these “lawful access” bills.
“We traditionally depend on the police having to go through certain steps before they can breach our privacy, the argument being privacy is an important part of the rights of citizens in a democratic society,” B.C. FIPA president Richard Rosenberg told the Straight by phone.
The bills will provide the government unrestricted access to subscriber information held by Internet service providers and telecommunications companies. SFU assistant communications professor Peter Chow-White finds this disconcerting.
“Internet providers are not under any obligation to give up personal information to law enforcement without due process,” Chow-White told the Straight by phone. “This reduces that due process.”
On March 9, Denham and other privacy commissioners across the country wrote to deputy public safety minister William Baker to express their reservations about the snooping bills.
According to Denham, Baker has acknowledged their letter and stated that he is looking into their concerns.