Huge numbers of Canadians, including key Ottawa decision-makers, are pushing back hard against the government's Bill C-51, which proposes unprecedented new powers for Canada's security agencies. The bill effectively turns CSIS into a secret police force and would place every Canadian under a government microscope.
Anyone can be a victim of surveillance. If you've used any of over a hundred popular file-hosting websites in the past three years, chances are you've had your online activity collected and analyzed by CSEC, acting without a warrant and with no independent oversight. There is a great deal that can be done to tackle our privacy deficit.
The Harper government's newly introduced "anti-terrorism" legislature, Bill C-51, has been roundly condemned as an assault on privacy and free speech -- and rightly so. Besides hunting down would-be terrorists, the new laws could be used to stifle dissent, remove due process and lead to the creation of a secret police force, critics say. In a supposedly enlightened and democratic country such as Canada, these would be unwelcome developments to say the least. But there is a deeper cost to eroding privacy than just the spurring of undesirable changes in external entities such as courts and communications networks. Also at stake is the very freedom of Canadians to internally determine who they are and want to be.
Perhaps the most notable revelation from documents obtained under the Access to Information Act is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.
Global attitudes on spying shift dramatically when the targets of the state's vast monitoring apparatus are suspected terrorists. Not surprisingly, a majority agree that it's acceptable to scrutinize the communications of those who would potentially do harm. Unfortunately, though, our governments have failed to show that they are capable of doing the job with care and precision.
Minister MacKay's lack of respect for Canadians is symptomatic of a government with a terrible track record on privacy issues. They continue to resist calls to take common sense steps to rein in Canada's out-of-control spy agency CSEC -- an agency that just 8 per cent of Canadians trust with their private information, according to a recent poll. The CSEC was caught red-handed collecting hugely sensitive information about law-abiding Canadian air travellers, and storing our private information in giant, insecure databases to be shared with their U.S. partners at the NSA.
There are few rights more important in any healthy democracy than the right to privacy. When citizens believe they are being watched, their willingness to engage in democratic debate is eroded, which in turn undermines our whole democratic process. Yet we clearly have a privacy deficit in this country.
Yes, there have always been spies and espionage, all with the aim of stopping some calamity, the existential threats. But thanks to Snowden, the computer geek with the highest levels of clearance, we now know the U.S. has turned its giant spying apparatus on its own people. We also know, thanks to Snowden, that the Harper government is a willing participant and keen to add to our rapidly ballooning surveillance state. And future consequences may be dire.
It looks like the rumble against the government's Online Spying Bill C-13 is turning into a roar. We hope that pressure from Canadians will encourage Conservative MPs to start speaking out about the hugely unpopular blanket spying measures in Bill C-13. They should put both public and private pressure on Defence Minister MacKay to split the bill and remove the online spying provisions. Tens of thousands of Canadians are now speaking out to demand an end to online spying, and new privacy rules to safeguard law-abiding Canadians from government surveillance. It's never been more important to keep up the pressure.
What if Edward Snowden was Canadian? Would his sacrifice have been for naught? The government is spying on Canadians without warrants and nobody seems to care. As a child, I was taught that a democracy cannot invade the privacy of its citizens without consulting a court. As an adult, I fear we are no longer living in a democracy. But Canadians are not powerless. It's time to get angry.
Sociologists say that unless you're a tech aficionado, it's hard to care about government spying that doesn't affect your daily life. For most white, middle-class people, data gathering seems abstract. We can't see it happen and the only manifestation is a targeted ad on our Gmail that we might dismiss with a "well, that's creepy." For poor people, surveillance is an everyday reality.
This morning I spoke before The House of Commons' Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and shared my thoughts on Bill C-13. I know there are concerns with C-13 and believe me, if there was something better on the table I'd be all over it. There isn't, not that I can see. Police have to have the ability to act fast when it comes to cyber-crime or their response is pointless. Our children's rights and privacy is already being violated -- violated by some of the sickest people you can imagine. If it's a choice between them and the police I'm siding with the police.
On Monday afternoon, the government's reckless online spying Bill C-13 came a small step closer to becoming the law of the land. 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.
All the tools I recommend are open source, means you don't have to trust me, you can download the source code and look at it yourself before using it. They are absolutely required for protecting your personal, and business data from unauthorized eavesdropping, which happens by default for anything you do online.