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(Un)lawful access legislation slammed in new BCCLA report, online campaign

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has released a timely report on Harper’s proposed “lawful access” legislation which will increase police surveillance powers with no real security benefit. The report, called Moving Toward a Surveillance Society, lists the new powers law enforcement agencies would acquire under the legislation, including warrantless access to Internet or phone user subscriber data. It notes there will be no meaningful oversight measure put in place to ensure public accountability and encourages the government to learn from the experiences of other countries rather than copy EU or U.S.-style snooping policy because of peer pressure.

Describing how invasive the tracking and storing of subscriber data can be, the report says this information “can now reveal more about an individual than may be revealed by real-time interception of private communications.” The Open Media network, to which the Council of Canadians is a member, explains that Harper’s plan “is to force every phone and Internet provider to allow ‘authorities’ to collect the private information of any Canadian, at any time, without a warrant.” Their current campaign, Stop Online Spying, let’s you send a letter to Canada’s justice and public safety ministers opposing the legislation. The response has been impressive.

“Canadians are hugely concerned about online surveillance,” says Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BCCLA, in a media release about the organization’s new report. “Over 75,000 people have signed Open Media’s “Stop Online Spying” petition opposing increased surveillance powers for police. New technologies are already a huge boon to police conducting surveillance and a huge threat to privacy rights. Now the government wants to lower the legal standards for access to this giant storehouse of citizens’ private information. Other countries have gone down this road, and we have seen that this is not a recipe for better law enforcement, it’s a recipe for pervasive surveillance and abuse.”

The Council of Canadians is one of several co-sponsors of a public event in Ottawa next month on the new “lawful access” legislation. Other sponsors include the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, National Union of Public and General Employees, Open Media, Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Rideau Institute. A Facebook event page with details will be updated shortly.

The BCCLA report concludes, in part:

At a time when technology and social practices are providing LEAs with vastly greater amounts and richer types of data for investigations and intelligence-gathering, these reforms would provide such agencies with powerful new tools by which to tap this growing source of investigational data, and would do so on the basis of lower evidentiary standards – or in the case of subscriber data, no evidentiary standards at all. Individual privacy is already under siege as a result of new technologies and business practices; these reforms would further erode the fragile framework of privacy protection that we have constructed to control state surveillance.

Not elaborated in the report is the likelihood of any new data collected and stored by Canadian law enforcement agencies coming under new data sharing agreements with the United States under the Harper-Obama perimeter security agreement.

U.S. authorities have long-since captured enormous amounts of subscriber data from phone and Internet firms, using it to data mine for suspicious behaviour. The perimeter security deal announced jointly in December calls on Canada and the U.S. to harmonizing their risk assessment process and sharing more law enforcement intelligence. It also calls for greater cooperation on cybercrime, mentioning that Canada will seek over the next few months to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime. According to the BCCLA:

What the Convention calls for include production orders and preservation orders, as well as measures to ensure that authorities can engage in the real-time collection of traffic data and the interception of communications. Most European states have ratified the Convention as has the US as a non-member state. Canada has signed but not yet ratified – the “Lawful Access” proposals under consideration now are designed, in part, to allow Canada to ratify this international treaty.

So we could expect to see Canada announce its intention to ratify the EU Convention at the next Canada-EU Summit, which is expected as early as February or March and where Harper may hope to also sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU.

You can show you oppose the “lawful access” legislation by signing Open Media’s letter to the Harper government here.