60 Canadian Business Leaders Sign Letter Against Bill C-51

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is facing stiffer opposition to its Bill C-51, following a letter signed by 60 business leaders opposing the anti-terrorism legislation. | CP

It looks like the digital world is lining up against the Harper government’s Bill C-51.

A group of prominent executives from many of Canada’s tech companies has signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking him “to scrap this reckless, dangerous and ineffective legislation.”

The bill could harm Canada’s economy by undermining international trust in Canadian businesses and jeopardizing the country’s online presence, the business leaders said in the letter published Wednesday.

“Bill C-51 provides too much leeway for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to take unjustified actions against our businesses, including the takedown of websites,” the letter states.

“As it stands, C-51 criminalizes language in excessively broad terms that may place the authors of innocent tweets and the operators of online platforms such as Facebook, and Twitter, along with Canada’s Hootsuite and Slack, at risk of criminal sanction for activities carried out on their sites.”

Among the signatories are the heads of many Canadian tech startups, including Ryan Holmes, founder and CEO of Vancouver-based Hootsuite; Tobi Lutke, CEO of Shopify (which just filed for an IPO); and Tim Bray, principal at Textuality Services and a co-founder of OpenText, Canada’s largest software company.

The letter appeared on the website of OpenMedia, whose petition against Bill C-51 has garnered nearly 200,000 signatures.

The business leaders expressed concern about the bill’s expansion of intelligence services’ powers, and suggested the move could take away a key advantage that Canadian tech companies have over U.S. competitors.

“We know that many of our clients, including our government, will only host services in Canada because of the invasive privacy issues in the U.S.,” the letter stated. “The U.S. tech industry has already lost billions in revenue because of this, and we don’t want it to happen here.”

It noted that “new CSE digital disruption activities can include measures such as the false attribution of disreputable content to individuals, and even planting of malware on individual computing devices.”

The letter came the same day the harper government unveiled its 2015 budget, which included $292.6 million in new funding for anti-terrorism activities, which covers the cost of the new legislation.

The letter acknowledges that the Harper government has admitted the bill has flaws and plans to amend it, but those changes “do not adequately address the underlying concerns” the business leaders have about the bill.

The letter is not the first time the tech community has expressed displeasure with Bill C-51. In a blog post last month, Mozilla, the project behind the Firefox browser, argued the bill would “undermine user trust, threaten the openness of the Web, and reduce the security of the Internet and its users.”

The bill appears to have lost much of its support in the months since it was announced. An initial poll showed 82 per cent of Canadians supported the bill in the days after it was announced; a recent survey from Forum Research pegged support at 33 per cent.

The government says bill, put forward in the wake of the Parliament Hill shooting last year, is necessary to combat the terrorist threats facing Canada.

It would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the power to act to prevent terrorist attacks; to date, its mandate was only to gather information, and only outside Canada.

Critics say arming CSIS in effect creates a “secret police” that risks undermining Canadian rights and freedoms.

The bill would also allow much easier sharing of federally held information, and would make it easier for police to make preventative arrests to stop a suspected terrorist act.

Read the entire letter at OpenMedia.

Also on HuffPost:

What Liberals Would Change About Bill C-51
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