OpenMedia

Privacy Plan

Case Study 3: Bills C-13 and S-4: Undermining the privacy of every Canadian

CASE STUDY 3: BILLS C-13 AND S-4: UNDERMINING THE PRIVACY OF EVERY CANADIAN

The recently passed Bill C-13,77 the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, poses substantial threats to our privacy online. When first tabled, the government touted C-13 as an anti-cyberbullying bill. However, it rapidly became clear that only a few pages of the Bill dealt with cyberbullying, while over 60 pages greatly expanded the state’s capacity to spy on citizens.

OpenMedia’s Executive Director Steve Anderson crowdsourced concerns from Canadians about Bill C-13, which he then reflected in his testimony to the parliamentary committee studying the bill. The three key concerns Canadians wanted Steve to highlight were:

  • Immunity for activities that victimize innocent Canadians
  • Accountability and oversight; and
  • Data security.

A wide range of experts, including federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien, have also warned about how Bill C-13 undermines the privacy of Canadians. The Bill grants immunity to telecom providers who disclose private information about their customers to law enforcement without a warrant. The Bill also makes it far easier for government to obtain deeply revealing metadata on targets, based merely on suspicion.

Internet Voice: “Stop passing Bill C-13 now because it does not protect Canadians from cyberbullies, it violates their privacy laws. Bill C-13 is just a lie, to trick you into thinking that they will protect you from cyberbullies even though they are becoming the bullies by watching or monitoring all of your activities online and on multiple devices.” - Mohammed V.

Under Bill C-13, a wide range of government officials and public officers can now access Canadians’ personal information without their knowledge or consent. Writing in the National Post,78 journalist Justin Ling warned readers that “the officers obtaining that data can be anything from tax agents to sheriffs, reeves, justices of the peace, CSIS agents, and even, yes, mayors.” This means that a local police officer, or even your local town mayor, could have access to your personal information, often without a warrant.

While Bill C-13 provides these officials with substantial power over your information, it leaves the targets of such surveillance with little by way of legal recourse— not least because they are not even informed that their privacy has been breached.

As the NDP’s Digital Issues critic Charmaine Borg told Parliament,79 Bill C-13 allows companies like Bell and Rogers to voluntarily disclose their customers’ personal information to government officials without the need for a warrant and with no judicial oversight.

This is not a minor issue - statistics obtained by the federal Privacy Commissioner revealed that these kind of warrantless requests for information were happening at a staggering rate of over 1.2 million times a year, with over 725,000 individual Canadians affected.80

Thankfully, last year’s Supreme Court of Canada R. v. Spencer ruling should shield Canadians from the worst of these abuses. The court ruled unanimously that warrantless requests from law enforcement are unconstitutional.81 Despite this ruling, however, the government pressed ahead with Bill C-13, choosing to overlook the fact that the legislation clearly encourages unconstitutional behaviour.

Internet Voice: “Why is the government not seeking Public input on Bill C-13? Have they learned nothing, how many times do they pass these new laws only to find out that it was totally off the mark?” - Alan R., Internet Town Hall participant

 

Parents speak out

 

Despite being promoted as an anti-cyberbullying bill, C-13 could in fact make things worse for teens online by undermining their right to privacy. Parents of cyberbullying victims have protested the Bill’s sidestepping of proper legal action, noting that the Bill opens up dangerous provisions for surveillance and erodes privacy. Carol Todd, mother of cyberbullying victim Amanda Todd, spoke out against the provision, saying, “I don’t want to see our children victimized again by losing privacy rights.”82 By removing legal protections against warrantless surveillance, Bill C-13 could create more victims than it prevents.

This dangerous piece of legislation also reflects a broader pattern in Canadian politics: the erosion of privacy accompanies the erosion of democratic values. As privacy expert Tamir Israel of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) says,

“Privacy is essential for a healthy democracy. If left unchecked, the activities of Canada’s state surveillance apparatus are harmful to all Canadians. We’re calling on the government to take its obligation to protect privacy seriously.”83

While many Canadians have requested strong, transparent and properly enforced safeguards to secure privacy rights online,84 the government has proceeded with warrantless spying projects without proper consent from the broader public.

Canadians from coast to coast strongly opposed Bill C-13

 

Ultimately, over 73% of Canadians opposed the bill, including a majority of the government’s own Conservative Party supporters.85 Despite this widespread opposition, the government pushed the legislation through Parliament, and it became law in early 2015.

 

Bill S-4 and the expansion of information disclosure

Bill S-4,86 the Digital Privacy Act, is another example of how the government appears to be systematically dismantling Canadians’ online privacy rights.

According to privacy expert Michael Geist, the government assured Canadians that this Bill “will provide new protections for Canadians when they surf the web and shop online,” but it actually allows your Internet provider to sell you out to anyone looking to sue you by handing over your private data without consent or a court order.

Bill S-4 proposes amending Canada’s private sector privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), to “specify the elements of valid consent for the collection, use or disclosure of personal information,”87 among other things.

These amendments “permit organizations, for certain purposes, to use and disclose, without the knowledge or consent of an individual, personal information,”88 without a court order in any situation where another organization claims you have violated its rights. They will also permit organizations to give state agencies such as CSE mass amounts of private data implicated in a cybersecurity breach, which can include sensitive financial, medical, or other information of innocent Canadians. These agencies can keep this data indefinitely and use it for other purposes, all without a warrant.

Essentially, this problematic Bill is yet another example of how the government has eroded legal safeguards online in favour of providing potentially hostile organizations, such as U.S.-based copyright trolls,89 with unfettered access to our personal data. This is highly worrying insofar as it leaves your legal rights in the hands of private organizations, rather than in the court of law.

 

Systematic dismantling of privacy safeguards

 

Together, C-13 and S-4 threaten to dismantle important legal protections against the warrantless disclosure of personal information. They effectively encourage private companies, including Internet providers, to hand private customer information to the government, and even to other private entities. These disclosures would be made without a warrant or court order, and without any requirement to notify the victim - thereby preventing victims from legal remedy.

When looked at against the backdrop of sweeping CSE mass surveillance, and the government’s new Bill C-51, it’s clear that Canadians face a privacy deficit of alarming proportions.

Footnotes: 

[77] Parliament of Canada: Bill C-13. Source:  http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6674511

[78] The National Post: How federal bill C-13 could give CSIS agents— or even Rob Ford —access to your personal online data. Source:  http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/04/how-a-new-federal-bill-c-13-could-give-csis-agents-or-even-rob-ford-access-to-your-personal-online-data/

[79] Parliament of Canada: Bill C-13, 2nd session. Source: http://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-13/

[80] Michael Geist: Canadian telcos asked to disclose subscriber data once every 27 seconds. Source: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2014/04/telco-disclosures/

[81] CBC News: Internet users’ privacy upheld by Canada’s top court. Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/internet-users-privacy-upheld-by-canada-s-top-court-1.2673823

[82] Toronto Star: Amanda Todd’s mother raises concerns about cyberbullying bill. Source: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/05/13/amanda_todds_mother_raises_concerns_about_cyberbullying_bill.html

[83] Privacy Coalition Experts urge government to heed serious concerns about Bill C-13. Source: https://openmedia.ca/news/privacy-coalition-experts-urge-prime-minister-heed-serious-concerns-about-online-spying-bill-c-13-an

[84] OpenMedia: Protect Our Privacy. Source: https://openmedia.ca/ourprivacy

[85] Forum Research: Three Quarters disapprove of Bill C-13. Source: http://poll.forumresearch.com/post/68/three-quarters-disapprove-bill-c13/

[86] Forum Research: Three Quarters disapprove of Bill C-13. Source: http://poll.forumresearch.com/post/68/three-quarters-disapprove-bill-c13/

[87] Michael Geist: Why the Digital Privacy Act undermines our privacy: Bill S-4 risks widespread warrantless disclosure. Source: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2014/04/s-4-post/

[88] Parliament of Canada: Bill S-4. Source: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6524312&File=19

[89] For more on how foreign-based private companies are taking advantage of weak Canadian privacy safeguards, see Michael Geist: Rightscorp and BMG Exploiting Copyright Notice-and-Notice System: Citing False Legal Information in Payment Demands. Source: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/2015/01/rightscorp-bmg-exploiting-copyright-notice-notice-system-citing-false-legal-information-payment-demands/