Earlier this month Bill C-51, commonly called the “Anti-terrorism Act, 2015” was finally voted on and passed. Amongst much debate and public criticism this piece of legislation promises greater protection of our Canadian civil rights and freedoms – though it would seem to come at much cost having many privacy groups up in arms and sparking nation-wide public protests.
Based on recent statistics over past couple of years it looks like there have been about 12 clear terrorist-related threats to our national security where the most recent being the series of shootings that occurred on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in October of 2014 leaving one Canadian soldier dead. And so, in response to these incidents, the Harper government introduced new anti-terror legislation in January of this year where it was then quickly voted on and passed early this month by the Conservative Party, who hold a majority in Parliament, with support from the Liberal Party. It was opposed by the Green Party & NDP and so if you dig down deep into this bill you will quickly see it is anything but straight forward.
In a nutshell the bill is broken into 5 distinct parts:
Part 1 explains how certain branches of the government have the ability to share all of your personal data freely with other parts of the government.
Part 2 gives authorities greater abilities to restrict air travel to potential and possible terrorists.
Part 3 makes is easier for authorities to make preventative arrests and to detain possible terrorists for an extended time.
Part 4 gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service or CSIS, I guess our equivalent to the US’s NSA, the power to actively disrupt potential security & terror threats.
Part 5 gives authorities more control to protect classified information.
One of the biggest concerns critics have raised with the bill surround the measures that would grant greater powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Before the anti-terror legislation, CSIS’s role was to, in essence, spy, to collect intelligence. Bill C-51 now gives CSIS what’s known as “disruptive” powers, meaning it would allow the spy agency act like a police force and to do things above and beyond mere observation while still allowing it to operate secretly as an intelligence gathering service. For instance, the bill would permit CSIS to get a court order to install spyware or malware onto your computer or have the ability to take down websites or remove online content that it deemed problematic or advocating or promoting terrorism.
Critics are concerned here because the wording of the bill for ‘promoting terrorism’ is broad and so it is not inconceivable if just speaking privately via your email or social networks about solutions to controversial conflicts or debating an academic opinion that “may” cause a listener to commit a terrorist offense could count as an indictable offense for you, regardless of your own intentions. Therefore, “being reckless,” as the bill describes it, or speaking in a reckless manor could lead to up to five years in prison.
In addition, critics are stating that the committee to oversee CSIS, called Canada’s Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), has been starved of staff and resources and now with the implementation of Bill C-51 they could be stretched beyond their limit. So its said that this safeguard is imperfect. Not to mention the privacy concerns put forth by many people including many Canadian law professors and past premiers.
While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, critics are saying that the loss of privacy is clearly excessive. For instance, all the tax information held by the Canada Revenue Agency, which historically has been highly protected information, would be broadly available amongst specific government sectors (I believe there are about 17 of them so far) if deemed relevant to the detection of new security threats.
Finally, from a digital privacy point of view, this bill will force Canadians to be much more aware of where they go, what they do, and say online. Canadians need to know that the Internet is not an anonymous medium as we once knew it to be and with the implementation of Bill C-51 you might want to treat all of our digital interactions as you would public face-to-face conversations ensuring that you are upholding the law and being responsible digital citizens.