Privacy

Canadians raise alarms over government powers

August 26, 2011
As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, a number of Canadians are voicing their concerns about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plan to give law enforcement agencies sweeping new powers.

Included in the proposed powers are the ability of police to intercept digital communications without a warrant and to force ISPs to disclose customer information.

Previously included in three pieces of legislation that were before Parliament when Harper's previous government fell in March, the provisions will form part of a new omnibus crime bill the Prime Minister has promised to introduce before the end of the year

Citing similarities to the elements of the U.S. Patriot Act that were ruled unconstitutional, a group of 23 individuals and organizations – including noted internet law specialist Michael Geist and the Canadian Association of University Teachers – wrote to Harper in August: “We are particularly concerned that [the provisions] will have serious negative implications for the privacy rights of Canadians, and that these aspects will not receive the scrutiny they deserve if rolled into an omnibus bill,” the letter stated.

The letter echoed concerns raised earlier this year by Jennifer Stoddart, Canadian privacy commissioner, and her equivalents at the provincial and territorial level. Stoddart wrote: “While we understand the need for law enforcement and national security agencies to function effectively in the context of new information technologies, in our view it would be misleading to suggest that these [provisions] will simply maintain capacity. Taken together, the proposed changes and new powers add significant new capabilities for investigators to track and search and seize digital information about individuals.”

Stoddart also noted the lack of appropriate oversight set out in the proposed legislation.

With Harper's large parliamentary majority and the opposition ranks weakened by the death of one party leader and the resignations of two others, it seems likely that the omnibus crime bill will face an easy ride through the House of Commons.

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