On Monday afternoon, the government's reckless online spying Bill C-13 came a small step closer to becoming the law of the land. The government used its parliamentary majority to cut short debate about the bill, successfully getting it past the Second Reading stage in the House of Commons despite the protests of opposition MPs who wanted more time to discuss the bill.
It didn't get through without a lively debate which saw many MPs speak out strongly about how Bill C-13 would enable a wide range of government authorities to spy on the private lives of Canadians -- not least by encouraging telecom companies to hand your private information to the government without a warrant.
Stunning figures just revealed by the Privacy Commissioner show this happened 1.2 million times last year -- that's one privacy breach every 30 seconds. And C-13 would make the problem worse by granting immunity to telecom companies who help the government spy on you. We've selected some highlights from the debate -- click here to see which MPs had your back when it comes to protecting privacy.
Despite the controversy, MPs passed Bill C-13 through to committee stage on a voice vote. Elizabeth May MP was the sole "nay" vote in the chamber. This does not mean Bill C-13 has become law. There are still many hurdles left for the government to overcome -- and the next stage of this fight will be absolutely crucial.
Many MPs voted to move the bill on despite their privacy concerns due to a reluctance to impede important measures to tackle the issue of cyberbullying -- the government cynically tacked on 60 pages of online spying legislation to just 2.5 pages about addressing cyberbullying. Committee Stage will be our chance to split the bill and to remove the dangerous online spying measures once and for all.
The NDP in particular has rightly called for this bill to be split up to remove the online spying provisions. Certainly if that doesn't happen at the Committee Stage we'll be expecting them and other opposition parties -- and hopefully principled Conservative MPs -- to side with Canadians and vote against it. We saw this happen with the government's last online spying bill, where opposition MPs and principled conservatives worked together with Canadians to defeat the bill.
The bill has now gone to the Justice and Human Rights Committee for in-depth review. For folks unfamiliar with the byzantine ins-and-outs of parliamentary procedure, the aim of Committee Stage is to subject proposed legislation to detailed analysis from expert witnesses. Our OpenMedia team is working to ensure the key decision-makers on the Justice and Human Rights Committee hear pro-privacy expert analysis about how this bill would undermine our privacy. Let's quickly recap what we already know about this reckless legislation:
- It would encourage telecom providers to hand over your private information without a warrant -- as we now know happens on a shocking scale: over 1.2 million times in a single year.
- Experts say that Bill C-13 would give a wide range of authorities access to the private lives of law-abiding Canadians. Professor Michael Geist has highlighted how Bill C-13 "establishes a new system for voluntary disclosure of personal information that is likely to lead both to increased requests without court oversight and to increased disclosures".
- This would effectively allow the government to spy on any Canadian at any time without any reason -- and victims wouldn't even know when their privacy had been breached.
- Experts have also emphasized how the bill greatly lowers the bar for law enforcement to spy on Canadians. Its 'Lawful Access' provisions make it far easier for the government to obtain hugely revealing metadata that can reveal vast quantities of intimate information about our private lives. See our handy infographic to learn more about what metadata can reveal about you.
- These spying activities is massively expensive and you're paying for it with your tax dollars.
In short, the current approach to privacy has led to out-of-control and expensive spying on law-abiding Canadians. We'll be doing everything we can to ramp up the pressure against this bill. We know that tens of thousands of Canadians -- including many of the Conservatives own supporters -- are hugely concerned.
Don't forget -- every voice really does make a difference. We saw just last week that the government backed down on controversial measures in the Elections Act after tens of thousands of Canadians spoke out. With a federal election around the corner, MPs know there'll be a real political price to pay for voting through unpopular measures that undermine Canadians' privacy.
It's never been more important to add your voice to our growing campaign. You can pitch in by signing our petition at OurPrivacy.ca, by using our quick tool to get a letter published in your local newspaper, and by urging your MP to make a pro-privacy commitment at https://OpenMedia.ca/stand.
Let's keep speaking up, Canada!
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