#CyberFLASH: There Has Been a ‘Sea Change’ in Privacy Rights in Canada, Warns Watchdog

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The man tasked with defending Canadians’ personal information, once decried as a government stooge, directly chastised the federal government over its efforts to track and surveil Canadians — and recommended that the new government put safeguards on how the government uses “big data” to spy on its citizens.

In his annual report, Daniel Therrien, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, looked at three pieces of legislation that “taken together, these initiatives have resulted in what can only be described as a sea change for privacy rights in Canada.”

The first, C-44, allows Canadian spies to operate abroad and gives them more ability to obtain information without disclosing its origins; C-13, which creates new legal authority for cops and public servants to obtain Canadians’ personal data without a warrant; and C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation that opens the door for wide new intelligence-gathering and sharing.

All three bills, which are now law, were introduced by the Conservatives, but supported by the Liberals.

The Liberals have said they will change aspects of C-51, but have said little about the other two pieces of legislation.

In his report, released last week, Therrien recommended fixes for each bill — that the government include language to prevent CSIS from obtaining and using data that has been obtained through torture; that the law be updated to clarify when police are allowed to obtain Canadians’ data from their internet or cellphone companies without a warrant; and that legislation be introduced to toughen protections for Canadians’ privacy when departments want to share their information.

C-51 especially raised the ire of the commissioner.

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#CyberFLASH: Counter-terrorism: Two bills poised to pass

Daniel TherrienTwo anti-terrorism bills that would give greater investigative powers to Canada’s police and spies are being swiftly pushed toward becoming law. The government says the new powers will make the country safer, while critics believe they might be tossed by the courts.

What’s being proposed?

Bill C-13 is expected to pass a final Senate vote next week, the last step before it is signed into law. The so-called cyberbullying bill will allow police to obtain surveillance warrants on “reasonable grounds for suspicion” – a lower threshold of evidence than now exists. The bill also shields Internet providers from lawsuits for voluntarily giving police private data without a warrant.

Bill C-44, on the other hand, is a series of amendments to the act governing the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). If passed, the bill would grant CSIS informants near-total anonymity, and confirm that Canadian courts can issue spy warrants that have effect outside Canada.

The bill has had four hours of committee study and faces another two hours Monday before it returns to the House for a third reading. Then the Bill will be voted and move on to the Senate.

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#CyberFLASH: Steven Blaney defends new anti-terrorism powers

Steven BlaneyCanada’s public safety minister defended new counter-terrorism legislation Tuesday, saying there were “robust” safeguards in place to ensure that proposed new powers for the federal spy agency don’t infringe on civil rights.

Steven Blaney told a security conference that legislation was needed to protect Canadians and their civil rights from the “explosive cocktail” created when those with mental health issues become indoctrinated into an extremist ideology, pointing to the Oct. 22 shootings in Ottawa as an example.

“If we want civil rights to flourish in the country, we need to have security,” Blaney said.

Blaney made the comments on the same day the House of Commons kicked off debate on the government’s new counter-terrorism bill. Opposition parties expressed cautious support for a series of amendments to give Canada’s spy agency more powers.

The government’s new bill to bolster the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act would give the agency greater surveillance powers, and enshrine in law the ability of CSIS to operate at home and overseas while also making it easier to share intelligence with allies. The bill, known as C-44, would also grant anonymity to CSIS witnesses in court cases, even keeping their identity secret from the judge involved.

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