NOTE: if you are supportive of what the Privacy Commissioner says, you might take a minute – – go to the above URL and enter a simple, short message, that’s all it takes. Daniel Therrien needs to be known and supported – – Harper will not like what he wrote.
UPDATE: Daniel Therrien and Elizabeth May, articulate and informed MP and Leader of the Green Party of Canada, are both being blocked from making presentations to the Parliamentary Committee hearings that are part of the legislative process.
By Daniel Therrien
Daniel Therrien is Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
The debate over the federal government’s new antiterrorism bill is raising profound questions about the tension between privacy and security.
Most Canadians would agree that terrorism represents a growing threat and that we must respond with appropriate national security measures when new threats arise. But at what cost?
In my view, Bill C-51, in its current form, would fail to provide Canadians with what they want and expect: legislation that protects both their safety and their privacy. As proposed, it does not strike the right balance.
The scale of information-sharing between government departments and agencies proposed in this bill is unprecedented. The new powers that would be created are excessive and the privacy safeguards proposed are seriously deficient.
All Canadians – not just terrorism suspects – will be caught in this web. Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians in order to find the virtual needle in the haystack. To my mind, that goes too far.
This is really about big data, which relies on massive amounts of information that can be analyzed algorithmically to spot trends, predict behaviours and make connections. The implications for privacy are serious – especially when we are talking about the highly sensitive information Canadians entrust to their government.
The legislation would allow for Canadians’ personal information to be shared if it is deemed “relevant” to the detection of new security threats. That’s an extremely broad standard that suggests the bar has been set far too low.
In this way, the bill would provide 17 federal government agencies with almost limitless powers to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them. The end result is that national security agencies would potentially be aware of all interactions all Canadians have with their government. That would include, for example, a person’s tax information and details about a person’s business and vacation travel.
While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security and other government agencies to determine the limits of their own powers.
We need to create clear and reasonable standards for what personal information may be collected, shared, used and kept. We also need to ensure appropriate oversight and review. Currently, 14 of the 17 agencies that will receive information under the proposed law are not subject to independent oversight.
Either a new review body should be created or the mandate of existing review bodies should be expanded. I would also recommend a system that includes a separate parliamentary review body.
Existing review bodies also need permission to share information with each other, which is not currently the case, and judicial recourse should be available to those who believe personal information has been collected, used, disclosed or retained improperly.
National security agencies have an important and difficult role to play in protecting us from terrorist threats – and I believe they strive to do their work in a way that respects human rights.
That being said, history has shown us that serious rights abuses can occur in the name of national security. A commission of inquiry, for example, confirmed that national security information-sharing led to the torture of Syrian Canadian Maher Arar, while revelations by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden have shown how pervasive government surveillance programs can become.
Bill C-51 requires significant changes. I have sent the parliamentary committee reviewing it a submission outlining my concerns along with a series of recommendations, and I would welcome the opportunity to speak with parliamentarians about my concerns in the near future.
I hope the government will listen to the concerns being raised – not just by me, but by many eminent Canadians – and that it amends Bill C-51 to ensure it respects our privacy rights.
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I submitted “COMMENT” as follows. Maybe I should have just made a short statement in support of the Privacy Commissioner?
1. Terrorism is the terrorizing and killing of CIVILIANS, not of soldiers. If we are at war with another country, the killing of their soldiers or ours, is not called terrorism.
The Government and media are irresponsible in the use of a word that they know hits the emotional button of fear.
2. When the label “terrorist” is applied, Government & Police immediately see themselves as OUTSIDE the Rule of Law. They believe they cannot be held accountable for the breaking of laws, a lesson from the Omar Khadr case.
The Rule of Law requires that people cannot be held indefinitely without charge, due process (a fair trial), and torture is definitely illegal.
Khadr was held 10 years without trial. He was tortured. The U.S. Senate Report on Torture (Dec 2014), and all the earlier documentation make denial impossible.
NO ONE has been held to account. Other countries got their citizens out of Guantanamo. They prob knew they might face prosecution if they did not. They, like Canada, are signatory to the Internat’l Law. Canada was the only western democracy that did not get citizens out of Guantanamo, a known place of torture.
The Harper Conservatives do not want the “anti-terrorism” machinery to be subject to oversight. No kidding!
3. March 14, a day of protest against C-51. You better be there!
4. It’s not hard to figure out why some young people join ISIS. Just ONE example. In 2010 many joined social media groups related to the Khadr case – they KNOW what was done to Khadr by “Westerners”. Truly depraved and highly illegal behaviour. Yes, “Westerners” are beasts. Torture AND unprovoked and illegal war on Iraq (2003).
Canadians are “Westerners”; Govt policy has rendered us indistinguishable from American military/CIA. A horrid history of deposing democratically-elected leaders, supporting foul regimes, the arming of anyone who wants to buy weapons. People understand “humanitarian” and “fighting for democracy” mean “appropriation of oil & gas rights”.
These young people are smart enough to figure out that when we drop bombs that are routinely killing women and children, maiming, turning homes and communities into piles of rubble, destroying the environment – these are what WE define as terrorist acts.
They are not so easily propagandized – – our Govt is not only doing “nice” Canadian kind of things.
If someone fires a bullet at a Canadian soldier on Canadian soil, as some kind of retribution for what has been done in the Middle East, why damn those terrorists! I think there are many who see through the double standard.
5. I think I might be capable of hate, if anyone did to my son what was done to Omar Khadr. It would be helpful if we were able to put ourselves into the shoes of people who we have helped terrorize.
It is as likely that many of the young who go to Syria to join ISIS are idealists, as they are terrorists. (“Freedom fighter” is probably a more accurate word than “terrorist”.)