#CyberFLASH: Amendments To US Criminal Procedure May Threaten The Privacy Of Canadians

computer-gimbal

The explosion of modern communications technology is increasingly connecting Canadians to the world abroad. Geographical boundaries and distances are no longer as significant as they once were. Today, our phones, the device most of us carry in our pockets, enables us to access our private and confidential information from anywhere in the world, at any time. This same digital interconnectedness, however, makes our information vulnerable to hackers and other criminal enterprises. Indeed, for all its miraculous connectivity and convenience, this brave new world presents unprecedented challenges.

Like never before, lawmakers are having to grapple with the tension between safeguarding our privacy on the one hand, and maintaining our security on the other. Canadians entrust lawmakers, as part of our democratic society, to seek a delicate balance – allowing law enforcement to do its job while preventing undue intrusion into our private affairs. Crucially, if we disagree with their approach, we are free to voice our objections at the ballot box.

Canadian law, however, applies only within Canadian borders. And as cybersecurity becomes more of concern, hackers may not be the only parties interested in Canadians’ private information. If foreign governments enact laws effectively granting their agents access to this information, even in limited circumstances, Canadians have little say in the matter.

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#CyberFLASH: New Brunswick making open data ‘baby steps’

1297516661469_ORIGINALThe New Brunswick government is inching toward an open data portal that will allow citizens to click through public information that has been previously locked inside government servers.

The commitment to opening up public data sets came when Premier Brian Gallant announced a digital government initiative earlier this month.

Governments across this country, and many other countries, have long embraced open data, a policy where governments post public information in usable formats that can be freely used by citizens.

But New Brunswick has, until now, dug in its digital heels, refusing to budge.

Shawn Peterson, a Saint John developer, has built a website that allows people to view and compare property tax assessment information.

But he’s done that by scraping data already posted online and he’s repeatedly run into problems with the provincial government trying to limit his ability to get data.

Getting access to that basic information in an open, useable format would be a major victory.

“I don’t think anybody is expecting them on Day 1 to release everything in a perfect format. But nothing is stopping us from taking some baby steps,” he said.

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#CyberFLASH: Public interest must be priority

images-122The RCMP in Saskatchewan should stop using the Privacy Act as an excuse to refuse to divulge information, especially when the public interest and safety factors are involved.

The police service’s communications policy involving the Saturday afternoon escape by two prisoners from the minimum security Willow Cree Healing Lodge at Duck Lake is a good example of its overly cautious application of the privacy law.

Even though the Correctional Service Canada issued a news release by 8 p.m. identifying Conrad Glen Slippery and Anthony Lawrence Earnest, along with providing a description of the two including the crimes for which they were imprisoned, the RCMP’s communication was far more limited.

Its request for public assistance in locating the escapees provided the names and a short description of the First Nations males, with a warning not to approach either man. Despite the words of caution, RCMP Sgt. Craig Cleary told media, “We weren’t in a position to breach the Privacy Act” because there was no immediate danger to the public. He said the warning to contact police without approaching them was merely because they were escaped convicts.

While the federal Privacy Act does state that personal information under the control of a government institution, including criminal records, shall not be disclosed without the consent of the individual to whom it relates, Section 8 (2) allows the head of an agency to share the information when “the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy that could result from the disclosure.” In this case, the fact that 31-year-old Mr. Slippery was serving “an indeterminate or life sentence for second-degree murder,” as the correctional service appropriately disclosed, surely was in the public interest.

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#CyberFLASH: Tories’ Open Government Plan Silent On Access To Information Act Reform

Clement

OTTAWA – The Conservatives’ new draft plan on open government makes no mention of reforming the Access to Information Act, despite widespread calls to revise the 32-year-old law.

The draft plan would see the government make information and data — including scientific research, federal contract details and archival records — more readily available by default.

But it proposes no legislative changes to the access law, which allows people who pay $5 to request government records ranging from correspondence and briefing notes to audits and hospitality receipts.

The legislation was passed in 1982 and took effect on Canada Day the following year. It has changed little since and has been repeatedly criticized as a relic of the filing-cabinet era that doesn’t even cover key institutions including the House of Commons and Senate.

Reform of the law was suggested during federal online consultations for the federal plan and during meetings in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa and St. Catharines, Ont.

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#CyberFLASH: Justin Trudeau proposes more access to government data

Justin Trudeau

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is proposing an overhaul of the much-maligned federal access to information law that would include making government information “open by default.”

The move comes days after Canada’s information commissioner raised concerns about growing secrecy within federal government departments and agencies, and is the latest among Trudeau’s promises to push for more openness and transparency.

Speaking Wednesday as he prepared to table a private member’s bill calling for an update to the 30-year-old Access to Information Act, Trudeau argued the importance of making government information readily available to all Canadians.

“The ability of a citizen to access information on what government is doing with their tax dollars, in their name, is one of the fundamental tenets of building confidence around government,” he said.

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