Canadians’ Right to Privacy Comes Under Attack

Canada has definitely been hanging around the US too long. The nation’s Conservative government has a new bill insidiously called the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act that would allow authorities to monitor the telephone and Internet habits of all Canadian citizens.

The US Patriot Act justifies using things like roving wiretaps, to which President Obama, granted a four-year extension in May 2011, by saying they will help protect US citizens from terrorists. After 9/11, that’s a very real concern; however, it doesn’t justify arbitrarily singling out certain US citizens and investigating them, which can happen under the provisions of the Patriot Act. Now, Canada’s Conservative government is trying to justify invading the privacy of Canadian citizens by saying he wants to protect children from Internet predators. Except for predators themselves, who doesn’t want to do that?

In the US, even with roving wiretaps, authorities have to first, prove probable cause, then get a warrant or a court order before they can invade a suspect’s privacy. Such will not be the case if Canada’s “lawful access” legislation actually gains traction and becomes law. Under the new law, Internet service providers and cell phone companies would have to turn over to authorities – whether they have warrants or not – a citizen’s name, address, phone number, email address and ISP address on demand. But, the bill states, authorities would not have access to the content of the citizen’s communications. Under current legislation, if the police don’t have a warrant, then access to the aforementioned information has to be granted voluntarily by the person in question. That doesn’t mean that warrants will be done away with altogether.

According to the way Bill C-30 – as it’s called – is worded, judges would have more latitude when issuing warrants to authorities. It would allow judges to not only authorize wiretaps but also “grant all other associated warrants or orders.” All warrants and orders related to the wiretap would have the same expiration dates, and they would be automatically sealed. But the bill’s longer name implies that government’s greatest concern is for protecting its most vulnerable citizens from threats via the Internet.

Here’s what the bill says verbatim about how it will address cybercrimes:

“Bill C-30 would help to better address cybercrime and crimes committed using modern communication technologies. Examples of these include:

  • enabling police to safeguard computer data for a limited period of time through a preservation demand so that a warrant or production order can be obtained prior to the computer data being deleted;
  • modernizing the number recorder warrants provision (for telephones) by expanding it to include all forms of telecommunications (transmission data recorder warrants);
  • allowing for the police to trace and identify the originating service provider involved in the transmission of a specified communication; and
  • raising the judicial threshold to authorize a tracking warrant from a suspicion-based to a belief-based standard in situations involving the tracking of an individual’s movements (by identifying the location of a thing that is usually carried or worn by a person, e.g., cell phone).”

The implications and possible ramifications of such a law are more than a little frightening.