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NEWS: Harper hits pause on C-30, the Web surveillance act

The Globe and Mail reports, “The Harper government is temporarily parking controversial legislation that would grant new powers to authorities to police the Internet while it consults on how to rewrite it to assuage privacy concerns among Canadians and within caucus. …Rattled by a public backlash over Bill C-30…Conservatives make no secret of the fact this isn’t Stephen Harper’s favourite bill, meaning that, during a slow economic recovery, he’d rather be associated with other legislative priorities.”

“The process of sending the bill to MPs for study is not scheduled to start in the week of Feb. 27, and sources familiar with the government’s plans say the Conservatives are in ‘no rush’ to pass the legislation. They said the bill is unlikely to be moved forward in the next couple of weeks. …People familiar with the government’s plans say Ottawa is still determined to move forward with C-30 but does not want to be tied down to a time frame. The next step would be a Commons debate of up to five hours before sending it to committee for review.”

“Privacy advocates say the legislation’s problems go far beyond the concern that has dominated debate – the provision that would give police access to identifying information about Internet users without having to apply for a warrant. The bill would also compel Internet service providers to install equipment to allow police, with warrants, to track the activities of users more easily. Ottawa has estimated this would cost as much as $80-million over the next four years and has not disclosed the cost to Internet service providers. These companies say they’re worried that the full cost will be much higher. …Critics warn the bill would usher in a new level of state-sanctioned surveillance in Canada and authorities would increasingly find reasons to snoop on Internet activity. …(Even) Tory supporters have not always agreed on one of the most controversial provisions of the legislation. Former public safety minister Stockwell Day, for instance, has said he wasn’t keen during his tenure on granting police power to gain access to information without a warrant.”

Concerns have also begun to emerge about how C-30 could extend to the surveillance of activists. Already, in light of popular demonstrations against the Keystone XL pipeline, natural resources minister Joe Oliver has stated, “There are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade. These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.” In this context, it should be noted that University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist has highlighted that other countries that have granted police similar powers have seen a rise in the use of surveillance by authorities. He says, “There really is no turning back once these surveillance capabilities are installed. We’re not going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in surveillance technologies and not use them.”

To read Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew’s recent blog on C-30, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13729.