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.
Even more disturbing, it seems that CSE deliberately targeted Canadian IP addresses in violation of the law and contrary to repeated government assurances. They then cross-referenced the IP addresses of file-hosting users with other databases to learn the identity of these users. So basically, ending up as a target for in-depth surveillance could be as easy as clicking on a link.
Like an overwhelming number of Canadians, you said -- publicly -- that you didn't want to grant telecom providers immunity for handing over our sensitive private information to government without a warrant. But then at the last minute something changed. You voted for the Bill in Parliament, and I don't mind telling you that was a huge disappointment. I also can't help but detect a hint of shame in the blog post that you wrote explaining why you turned around and supported the Bill after speaking out so vociferously against it.
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.
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.