October 11, 2011 | By Annie Harrison and Katitza Rodriguez

Keep the Pressure On: Oppose Canada’s Fishy “Lawful Access” Bill

Canada is a popular destination for those who like to fish, but the Canadian government is attempting to spark what may be the country’s largest-ever fishing expedition into its citizens’ private online data.

Supporters of Canada’s “lawful access” legislation were foiled on September 20th when they were pressured to withdraw proposed warrantless digital surveillance measures from an omnibus crime bill. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, Canadian Justice officials say they are “committed to reintroducing” the bills. We must halt this assault on civil liberties in Canada.

The legislative proposals, expected to reincarnate former bills C-50, C-51 and C-52, would allow Canadian authorities to force Internet service providers to disclose private customer data without a warrant.  This information included the name, address, phone number, IP address, email address, and other records about subscribers that could provide a detailed profile of online activity. In past iterations, the cluster of bills that make up “lawful access” also mandated surveillance technologies for Internet service providers, broadened police powers, and gave online service providers carte blanche immunity to spy on their customers on behalf of the police.

These measures would give authorities backdoors through which they can access data generated during the creation, transmission, or reception of a communication, including its origin and destination. The proposed Canadian “lawful access” legislation would in some circumstances even ban online service providers from even telling subscribers that their private data has been disclosed - undermining opportunities to challenge basic violations of privacy.

Your IP address can tell authorities what websites you visit and who you communicate with. It could reveal otherwise anonymous online identities, your social networking contacts, and even at times your physical location via GPS. Just this amount of data linked to your real identity could be used to create a nicely detailed police profile – all without any suspicious activity or legal justification. Oh Canada!

Canada’s provincial and federal Privacy Commissioners, who take Canadians’ personal privacy seriously, have sent an unprecedented joint letter to the Government expressing their concerns about this legislation. Careful Canadians, who rightly believe that their personal data is worth protecting, are fighting against the creation of a freewheeling surveillance state. Even Canada’s own police association seems wary of gaining access to personal data without first asking a judge.

If you are not alarmed by this legislation, you should be. “Lawful access” is the misshapen offspring of the Cybercrime Convention. Countries have been using this treaty as an excuse to invade citizens’ privacy for a decade since it was first enacted. Canada’s surveillance initiative is akin to Australia’s, where citizens are fighting their own overbroad online surveillance laws. Many of these new surveillance powers go far beyond the Convention’s intended levels of intrusiveness. Of course, our personal data is even more vulnerable now that we store so much of it in the cloud with third party service providers.

Canadians have so often been a voice of calm reason during international debates; now we must come to their defense before the right to privacy and anonymous free expression in Canada is gutted like – well, a fish.

The word is certainly out that the Canadian government is trying to push through fishy “lawful access” legislation. A petition has been launched by Canadian civil society groups, hosted by OpenMedia.ca, and has already been signed by more than 70,000 people. You should sign it too. And speak out against this proposed legislation in your blogs and social networks.

Tell your Canadian friends that putting their fellow citizens under digital surveillance should require a warrant and notification to subscribers. Insist that the Canadian Parliament thoroughly vets this reckless legislation and ensures that any “lawful access” scheme includes robust oversight and effective audit and reporting requirements. As the Canadian national anthem says: "The True North strong and free!”

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