EFF is encouraging Canadians to join together tomorrow for a day of action against a dangerous bill that’s navigating through the Canadian legislature and threatening to strip its citizens of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression.
Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, introduces a wide range of sweeping changes to how the Canadian government handles its national security and anti-terrorism efforts. The bill just passed its second reading in the conservative-led House of Commons in late February and the government is now hastily rushing to pass it with less than two weeks of debate.
On the surface, this flawed bill seeks to address terrorist threats, but the reality is that its vague wording and excessive measures allow for overreaching security powers to extend to a range of other, less serious contexts than terrorism. While we’re seeing other overreaching legislation on the table in Canada right now, here’s the breakdown of why Bill C-51, in particular, is so concerning to privacy and security experts.
Prior to 1984, Canada’s national police force (RCMP) had the constitutional authority to conduct both clandestine intelligence-gathering and carry out offensive policing powers. With these capabilities, the RCMP, for decades, repeatedly violated some of Canada’s most fundamental democratic laws and values until it was finally realized that only a separation of powers could stop the abuse. In 1984, the RCMP’s intelligence security mandate was lifted and given to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which was created in order to safeguard against improper policing activities carried out by the RCMP. Bill C-51 seeks to remove this separation of powers, effectively reverting the country back to an era of repressive domestic policing with very little oversight.
The bill would also authorize open-ended information sharing among Canadian agencies for “security purposes,” by enacting the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. At present, said agencies are compartmentalized under the country’s Privacy Act, which allows Canadians to provide their information to the state (for census, tax compliance, health services, and a range of other purposes) without fear that the information will be used against them. This compartmentalization will no longer exist if Bill C-51 is put into force. These new open-ended exceptions may form the basis for Canada's own Total Information Awareness initiative. Furthermore, there would be an expanded capacity to share information with foreign governments, even though we’ve seen what lax restrictions on information sharing has led to in the past—the unlawful rendition and torture of innocent Canadian citizens.
The bill provides for various censorship provisions as well, criminalizing the act of advocating or promoting “terrorism offences in general.” Such excessively broad definitions make these provisions dangerously subjective—almost certainly chilling speech and endangering innocent social media users whose posts could be misinterpreted. Even bookstores and online platforms such as Amazon may face liability. The bill further empowers CSIS to take unspecified and open-ended “measures,” which may include the overt takedown of multi-use websites or other communications networks without any judicial supervision. CSIS will also be explicitly authorized to violate the laws of other countries.
Lastly, Bill C-51 is problematic for the powers it implicitly grants CSE. CSE is Canada's most secretive, least transparent agency—Michael Hayden, the former director of the NSA, once said he “envied” the agency for its legal agility. CSE is typically prevented from directing its activities at Canadians and from taking offensive actions. However, CSE is legally allowed to help CSIS. In granting CSIS the power to take unspecified “measures,” the Canadian government is unleashing CSE on innocent and unsuspecting Canadians. Digital “measures” could include the false attribution of disreputable content or commentary to individuals, the takedown of legitimate websites or communications services, and the planting of malware on individual computing devices.
Canadians must rally together in defense of privacy and free expression. Learn more about the legislation here and join the fight by participating in a national day of action tomorrow, March 14, to stop Bill C-51. More information at https://stopc51.ca/about-c51.