Minister Toews still pushing online spying bill C-30, ignoring due process and police resourcing

Parliament resumes this month, and as Tim Harper of the Toronto Star asserts, the highly unpopular online spying bill, C-30, is still high on the government’s agenda. As there’s little on the books for the fall session of Parliament, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is taking the opportunity to once again push his controversial legislation.

But Toews may not be the Public Safety Minister for much longer—according to Harper, the online spying bill is in desperate need of a new champion following Toews’ public relations disaster earlier this year, when he asserted that all those who opposed the bill supported child pornographers. This showed blatant disrespect—not only in regards to this brutally serious crime—but also to the privacy commissioners, legal and policy expert, and thousands of Canadians who had asserted that the online spying bill is invasive, costly, and poorly thought-out. Now that Bill C-30 is so negatively linked to Toews, the Conservatives may be looking for a new salesman.

In spite of this, the Herald News reported this week that Toews has been pushing hard for Lawful Access, asserting that police are “overwhelmed” with paperwork and it is impeding their ability to get out on the street and do their jobs. This annoying “paperwork” consists of the police work that has to be documented and turned over to defense lawyers to ensure that those accused of crimes get a fair trial.

So how does Toews propose to streamline this cumbersome accountability process that is legislated by our Charter of Rights? Through legislation like the online spying bill, which will allow the authorities to track suspects without a warrant, bypassing some of that pesky paperwork.

Meanwhile, the CBC has noted that the RCMP is scrambling to deal with the basic processing of forensic evidence, and is underfunded and under-resourced in this respect. But rather than directing funding towards these basic and essential policing services, Toews is trying to pass this off as a provincial problem. Instead he’s pushing the government to fund an expensive and invasive surveillance system, which can only create further reams of information to be processed, and which will do away with the checks and balances that make sure these powers won’t be abused.

Toews has consistently dismissed the concerns of Canadians in pushing this costly and invasive surveillance plan. Whether it’s him or another salesman championing online spying in the fall, we need to let the government know that we won’t stand for unchecked mass surveillance.


Originally  posted at


(Un)Lawful Access

Last week, hosted the Vancouver premier of New Transparency documentary, (Un)Lawful Access, in which surveillance, security, and privacy experts comment on the Lawful Access legislation which looks set to be reintroduced in Canada for the umpteenth time. Lawful Access legislation expands the ability for law enforcement to obtain access to the huge amounts of meta-data about our digital activities, with precious little oversight, and little justification.

The BC Civil Liberties Association’s report  on the legislation reveals that, without a warrant, police can request the “name, address, telephone number and electronic mail address of any subscriber to any of the service provider’s telecommunications services and the Internet protocol address, mobile identification number, electronic serial number, local service provider identifier, international mobile equipment identity number and subscriber identity module card number that are associated with the subscriber’s service and equipment” (p. 33).

This report is the most comprehensive assessment of the new legislation and its privacy impacts, and it was released after the screening. Following a panel discussion which was at times both highly entertaining in the incongruity of government justifications, and deeply concerning due to their apparent acceptance,  the report flew off the table. Presenting and participating in the discussion were BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn, BC Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth DenhamChris Parsons, contributor to the BCCLA’s report “Moving Toward a Surveillance Society – Proposals to Expand “Lawful Access” in Canada”, and documentary producer Kate Milberry. The panellists did a great job of getting across just how widely this legislation casts the surveillance net, how unnecessary it is, and who the real people of interest are- as Micheal Vonn noted, some of the most large-scale surveillance operations in Canada to date have been targeted at protesters (notably the G20 protests in Toronto), environmentalists, First Nations activists, and civil liberties advocates. It was not lost on anyone in the room that just by attending that event, under this new legislation we may have been made targets. Therefore this legislation would not only result in a loss of privacy but a dramatic chilling of free speech.

This must be understood as part of a global shift- Canada is certainly not the first nation to try to legislate such widespread and unbridled surveillance. Nations such as China with its ‘Great Firewall’ are well known for attempting to maintain strict control of new media; and nations experiencing political and social unrest, such as Egypt, Syria, and Iran, experienced digital media blackouts in an attempt to quell protest and uprising. However similar levels of surveillance are aspired to even in democratic societies. Our neighbours in the U.S. have long been subjected high levels of both legal surveillance through legislation like the Patriot Act and even the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as illegal as the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal demonstrated.

The UK also has high levels of citizen surveillance, however there are much stronger methods of oversight built into these programs. While the levels of surveillance being proposed in Canada are of course extremely concerning, it’s the lack of oversight that really exacerbates this problem. As Nathalie Des Rosiers notes in the (Un)Lawful Access documentary, warrants are a good thing, they keep us honest. Without a way to hold law enforcement accountable, the potential for abuse (and the temptation towards it) is far too great.

Of course, law enforcement should have access to all the information it needs in order to uphold the law and to protect the public, but they must do so without unnecessarily infringing on citizens’ civil liberties, and we have yet to see evidence of the necessity for these new powers. Privacy is not an opposite to security; both are necessary in a democracy.

Stop Online Spying

Proposed surveillance powers will have reduced warrant requirements, potentially introduce vulnerabilites, and cost ISPs who will pass that cost on to consumers

I went to a really interesting forum a couple weeks ago at Simon Fraser University called ‘Stop Online Spying’, organized by the Open Media group and apparently spearheaded by Michael Markwick, who brought along one of his undergraduate classes. It was focused around the Internet surveillance or ‘lawful access’ components of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s crime omnibus bill, which is set to pass in the first 100 days after his reelection. A coalition of advocacy groups and professors have written an open letter to Harper, outlining their objections to the bill, which can be found here.

There were a few familiar faces- Micheal Vonn of the BC Civil Liberties Association, who is always refreshingly straightforward and forthright in her analysis of surveillance law and its implications. She explained how police already had many of the powers that this bill provides, and in fact the bill simply reduces oversight and increases the potential for the abuse of these powers.

A few of the folks from the OpenMedia group presented- this organization was largely responsible for publicizing and organizing against the proposed usage-based billing in Canada. There was also a guy called Christopher Parsons, a PhD at UVic, who I feel like I probably saw at the Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday Life conference at U of T. He made some really insightful comments on the difference between public and private data, and the importance of ‘meta data’ or ‘traffic data’- the major loophole in electronic communication privacy law.

One really interesting aspect of the forum was a presentation outlining the history of the lawful access bill, which didn’t come from no where, but is just the latest form of a number of previous bills that have been reframed over and over again throughout the years (the presentation was by either Vincent Gogolek of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, or Steve Anderson of Open Media, I cannot recall). This is one of the main points raised in the coalition’s open letter, mentioned above.

It was great to have the opportunity to attend a discussion of Internet surveillance issues that was held close to home, as many of these forums are held in Ontario. It was also nice to hear some of the bright-eyed optimism of some of the undergrads in attendance- events populated by those in the surveillance studies field can often be quite cynical affairs! But this is definitely an issue with the potential to capture the minds of the younger generation, if they are given the opportunity to get to grips with the facts and their implications. This was a great opportunity for them to do just that.