Critics say Bill C-51 reforms don’t go far enough to protect Canadian privacy

bill c-51 ralph goodale

Advocacy group OpenMedia is campaigning against the government’s proposed reforms to Bill C-51, instead advocating for a full repeal of the original bill.

Bill C-51, otherwise known as the ‘Anti-terrorism Act 2015,’ broadened the authority of Canadian government agencies to easily share information about individuals.

The bill passed following an incident on Parliament Hill in Ottawa wherein a gunman killed a Canadian soldier before being shot and killed himself.

It has been criticized for granting excessive powers to government departments and agencies that breach the safety and privacy of Canadians.

“Some of the problems are being addressed by Bill C-59, but there are these really big gaps around information sharing.”

On June 20th, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale tabled C-59, a number of reforms that the government said would “amend the problematic elements” of Bill C-51.

While the changes put fourth were numerous, including a new arms-length national security review body that would oversee all security and intelligence activities in Canada, OpenMedia‘s interim communications and campaigns director David Christopher says they don’t go far enough.

“Some of the problems are being addressed by Bill C-59, but there are these really big gaps around information sharing,” said Christopher in an interview with MobileSyrup, adding that many of the changes are “cosmetic.”

The proposed legislative changes regarding the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (SCISA) include omitting protest and artistic expression activities from the definition of information that can be disclosed under the SCISA (unless a real threat to Canadian security is posed).

The government also seeks to clarify the threshold for disclosing information and require institutions to maintain specific records of the disclosures made under the act, which they would provide to the new proposed National Security and Intelligence Review Agency annually.

Christopher also notes that C-59 potentially introduces new powers for CSIS and CSE — in particular, new legislation that would explicitly define the situation in which Canada’s digital spies could hack into computer networks around the world.

In response to Bill C-59, Christopher notes that OpenMedia is hoping to soon launch a tool that would enable Canadians to send messages voicing their disapproval of the Bill C-51 reforms to their local MPs.

When asked if there were reforms that might suffice, Christopher says OpenMedia is in favour of full repeal, stating: “We’ve been calling for the full repeal of Bill C-51 from day one.”

“Canada’s participation in these networks and the embrace of a more muscular cyber-security strategy should be done with our eyes wide open.”

Michael Geist, Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law at University of Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society, shares a wariness of Bill C-51.

He writes in a blog post that while the bill “addresses some of the core criticisms of the Conservatives’ Bill C-51,” it does not “address the serious concerns about information sharing within government that create a ‘total information awareness’ approach.”

Additionally, he states it notably avoids bringing up the debate on lawful access.

Like Christopher, he too focuses on the powers potentially given to CSE.

“Canada’s participation in these networks and the embrace of a more muscular cyber-security strategy should be done with our eyes wide open,” says Geist, “Recognizing that with explicit authorization for offensive hacking of foreign governments and massive network data collection, Canada is now an active participant in the network disruption and surveillance programs whose revelation shocked many only a few years ago.”

Among the other changes, the government proposes to overhaul the CSIS threat reduction warrant process and introduce new safeguards, clarify the information sharing process between federal institutions for national security purposes, and amend both the Secure Air Travel Act and Criminal Code.

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