This week, Industry Minister James Moore quietly tabled a new Digital Privacy Act in the Senate. The proposed legislation should safeguard Canadians’ privacy online but sadly does not. The proposal is likely to reinforce the feeling that the Conservatives are just bad on privacy issues despite privacy’s increasing importance to daily life and our digital economy.
While the proposal does include some positive measures concerning commercial privacy, it will do almost nothing to tackle the privacy concern foremost in most Canadians’ minds: the dragnet government surveillance of law-abiding citizens and widespread government breaches of our sensitive information.
It seems like this government is trying to have its cake and eat it too—trying to come across as pro-privacy while squandering billions of taxpayer dollars on a bloated spy bureaucracy that was recently caught red-handed spying on thousands of Canadians and tracking their movements for weeks. Despite the outcry, the government is wasting $4.2 billion on a lavish new spy headquarters that will be the most expensive government building in Canadian history. While Minister Moore appears to understand the importance of privacy, the government overall does not appear to be on the same page.
The government’s incoherent approach is best illustrated by the stark contrast between Minister Moore’s Digital Privacy Act and Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s Online Spying Bill C-13. The government is trying to push both bills simultaneously through Parliament. Moore’s legislation helps strengthen commercial privacy protections when it comes to the online companies we shop with, while MacKay’s legislation strips away our privacy protections where it really matters.
How can it make sense for the government to claim to want to protect our privacy, while advancing reckless online spying legislation that would give a range of government authorities access to our private lives without a warrant or any judicial oversight? I expect Canadians will see right through this charade.
Moore’s new legislation even fails to include modest, common sense steps such as forbidding companies to share our private information with the government without a court order. We know this is happening on a massive scale. A single government agency, the CBSA, obtained private customer information over 18,000 times from telecom companies without a warrant last year. MacKay’s bill would actually encourage telecom companies to breach your privacy by granting them legal immunity to do so.
This missed opportunity is unsurprising from a government with such a terrible track record on privacy. In recent years there have been over 3,000 breaches of sensitive citizen data, affecting approximately 725,000 of us. This government has also presided over a spy bureaucracy that has clearly grown secretive, expensive, and out-of-control. The shocking revelations from Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden underline just how far Canada’s spy agency CSEC is recklessly undermining democracy at home, while tarnishing Canada’s reputation overseas.
The measures announced by Moore this week will do little to protect the thousands of Canadians who have had their privacy invaded by government spies, nor the hundreds of thousands who have had their information breached by the government in recent years. This government is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to spy on us and has refused to rein in CSEC despite millions of Canadians, including many grassroots Conservatives, saying mass surveillance is unacceptable.
If Minister Moore is sincere about safeguarding our privacy he should have a word with Minister MacKay, and tell him to withdraw his dangerous online spying measures. That would reassure many people that his legislation is not merely an attempt to distract Canadians from the government’s mass surveillance of law-abiding citizens.
Thousands of Canadians are already speaking up about Bill C-13, with a recent video launched by OpenMedia.ca going viral and making the top two posts on Reddit Canada. Over 34,000 have now joined the Protect Our Privacy Coalition which is calling for effective legal measures to protect Canadians’ privacy from government spies.
We know from our success at defeating previous government spying bills that when Canadians stand together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve. You can learn more about how you can pitch in at OurPrivacy.ca
Steve Anderson is Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca, an award-winning community-based organization that safeguards the possibilities of the open Internet.