#CyberFLASH: Why 2017 will be a make-or-break year for Internet freedom

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2017 is here, and it’s clear it will be a make-or-break year for Internet freedom. Around the world, our digital rights are under threat as never before. Let’s take a look at some of the big challenges ahead.

In Canada, the federal government will soon be publishing its response to the national security consultation that closed in December. It’s abundantly clear that Canadians want the government to repeal Bill C-51 and deliver strong privacy rules to make us safe — but will the government listen, especially against the backdrop of a full-on RCMP propaganda campaign calling for even more invasive spy powers?

Also in Canada, the government is under pressure from industry lobbyists pushing a costly new Internet tax, a proposal that expert Michael Geist has called a “digital tax on everything.” This is a terrible idea that will deepen the digital divide, and force even more Canadians offline, in a country where low-income and rural residents are already struggling to stay connected. If the government pursues this, expect a big fight ahead.

South of the border, we’re now just weeks away from Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20. On that day, Trump will secure not just the keys to the Oval Office, but also sweeping new powers to shape the future of the Internet for generations to come.

Based on Trump’s statements, we can expect to see a dramatic expansion of NSA and FBI spying powers. Worryingly, there are very few oversight mechanisms or limitations on what Trump can do with this power. And, given that so much surveillance activity takes place under a veil of near-total secrecy, it will be extremely difficult for citizens to hold Trump effectively to account.

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#CyberFLASH: Security vs. privacy: Technology changes, rights don’t

cpt107-securityprivacy201The stakes are considerable, which is why the folks who run the national security apparatus have quietly and not-so-quietly been laying down markers as Ottawa reviews their powers. The argument goes they need more tools, and more leeway, to do their important work.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Canada’s federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien and his provincial and territorial counterparts are sounding a much-needed note of caution in a joint brief submitted as part of the ongoing security review.

“It is important that we not forget the lessons of history. One of these lessons is that once conferred, new state powers are rarely relinquished,” the document reads.

That’s true, as is the fact the expansion of state powers of surveillance over the past 15 years has resulted in “too many cases of inappropriate and sometimes illegal conduct by state officials,” including violations of privacy and other civil rights.

If Bill C-51, the former Conservative government’s anti-terrorism legislation, was an overreach, the attempt to fix it ought not to make things worse.

Mr. Therrien and his colleagues rightly raise the alarm over Ottawa’s apparent willingness to widen, rather than restrict, things like the collection of metadata. They argue that authorizations to gather metadata ought to meet elevated standards and require judicial, not merely administrative, sign-off. They’re right.

The privacy commissioners’ submission also points out that increased monitoring of online activities has a “potential chilling effect” that could defeat the purpose of having more powerful snooping tools; when people think they’re being watched, they go further underground. We could end up diminishing the freedom of many, without increasing security against the violent few. It’s an important consideration in online anti-radicalization efforts.

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#CyberFLASH: RCMP want new powers to bypass digital roadblocks in terrorism, major crime cases

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Suspected child predators, drug traffickers and extremists allegedly planning attacks or to join ISIS are escaping the eyes of the law because of increasingly impenetrable encryption and other digital roadblocks, according to top secret RCMP files reviewed by a CBC News/Toronto Star investigation.

The Mounties provided access to the files in a bid to demonstrate how investigations of tech-savvy suspected criminals are increasingly “going dark” because crucial evidence is beyond their reach.

The rare look inside active investigations comes amidst a thorny debate and public consultation on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act (C-51), which includes proposals to significantly expand police powers.

Four ideas floated in the federal government’s green paper on national security would enhance investigative capabilities, including the power to compel suspects to unlock their encrypted computers and cellphones and a law to require telecommunication and internet service providers to install interception and data-retention equipment in their networks.

But privacy and civil liberties advocates are fiercely opposed to such measures and demand police provide more evidence to justify their request for new powers.

RCMP Chief Supt. Jeff Adam admits law enforcement hasn’t done a great job explaining the investigative challenges of the digital world to the public.

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#CyberFLASH: CSIS, Bill C-51 and Canada’s growing metadata collection mess

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Much has been made over whether the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada’s spy agency, should be armed with broader powers to “disrupt” what it perceives as terrorist plots.

A report tabled this month by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which watches over CSIS’s work, notes that while the spy agency hasn’t abused its new powers of disruption, its bulk data collection program needs to be scaled back.

It’s easy to think of CSIS and other spy agencies as shadowy organizations that carry out James Bond-like “missions” involving cool gadgets and high-tech weaponry, but the Snowden leaks, among other revelations, have shown the public that metadata collection (online communications, phone logs and other electronic exchanges that can be intercepted in enormous amounts) now constitutes the state’s primary instrument of control.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien recently called upon legislators (the Liberals in particular) to amend certain aspects of Canada’s national security laws in order to address the issue of metadata collection.

In particular, Therrien referred to the Communications Security Establishment, which seems to get a lot less public scrutiny than CSIS. The CSE is responsible for collecting massive volumes of foreign communications through “signals-intelligence,” (or “sigint”), but also tends to drag up large amounts of Canadian metadata as well, which it isn’t supposed to be doing.

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#CyberFLASH: Ottawa has little regard for protecting privacy rights when it comes to national security

1297658073661_ORIGINALOTTAWA — The federal government has scant regard for privacy rights when it comes to national security, according to the federal privacy commissioner’s new annual report.

Tabled in Parliament Tuesday, it reveals:

• Only two of the 17 departments and agencies with power collect personal information from other federal entities under the new Security of Canada Information Sharing Act (SCISA) believe privacy impact assessments (PIAs) are necessary. The assessments are designed ensure privacy protection is a core consideration and are required under government policy for any new or substantially modified government programs and activities involving personal information.

The act, created under the Anti-terrorism Act of 2015, formerly Bill C-51, allows 111 departments and agencies to share information, including citizens’ personal data, with 17 departments with national security responsibilities. The information must be “relevant” to the recipient’s jurisdiction in relation to “activities that undermine the security of Canada.” The intent is to persuade bureaucrats to share information so authorities can better connect the “dots” of potential national security threats.

The act has been used 110 times between Aug. 1, 2015, when it became law, and Jan. 31, by the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA), RCMP, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Global Affairs Canada.

When privacy concerns about SCISA were raised last spring as C-51 made its way through Parliament, then-public safety minister Steven Blaney attempted to placate critics by insisting PIAs would be the norm.

• Thirteen of the 17 departments and agencies with national security responsibilities collected or shared information under “very broad” pre-existing legal authorities, including common law, because the Conservative government did not create detailed new legal authorities spelling out permitted collection and disclosure of information for national security.

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#CyberFLASH: Goodale to launch C-51 consultations on Thursday

ralph-goodalejpg-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x784Opponents of the Harper government’s controversial national security legislation, C-51, will have the chance to officially voice their concerns to government starting Thursday, when Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale kicks off another round of consultations focused on Canada’s national security.

Goodale will make the announcement flanked by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in Edmonton Thursday afternoon and it will make up the second part of a two-pronged review of Canada’s national security, the first of which launched last month with a focus on cyber security.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to fix “problematic elements” of C-51 during the 2015 election campaign, pledging to “guarantee that all Canadian Security Intelligence Service warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; establish an all-party national security oversight committee; ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy; require that government review all appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list; narrow overly broad definitions, such as defining “terrorist propaganda” more clearly; limit Communications Security Establishment’s powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians; require a statutory review of the full Anti-Terrorism Act after three years; and prioritize community outreach and counter-radicalization, by creating the Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-radicalization Coordinator.”

Several of those items are already ticked off or soon to be: the government announced its plan for a committee tasked with reviewing national security activities in June and has begun the process of launching an office to help individuals whose names match those of people flagged on the no-fly list.

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#CyberFLASH: National security review tries to tackle needs of law enforcement in digital world

160815_iy0oi_rci-cell-phone_sn635OTTAWA— The Liberal government is taking another crack at making it easier for police and spies to gain “lawful access” to telecom companies’ customers’ subscriber information, online activities, telephone conversations, and encrypted communications.

It comes deep into a sweeping discussion paper on how Canada should overhaul its national security laws.

The so-called “green paper,” released Thursday by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, paints a picture of police and national security agencies stymied by technological advancements that terror suspects turn to their advantage, a Supreme Court of Canada decision that requires time-consuming unwieldy warrants for basic Internet subscriber information, and the failure of legislation to keep up with the bad guys.

The Liberal government is broaching the hot button topic more than four years after the Conservatives triggered an uproar when a senior cabinet minister — Vic Toews — accused opponents of siding with child pornographers if they didn’t support a bill to update state powers of electronic surveillance. Amid a storm of criticism and a backlash from privacy advocates, that bill was withdrawn.

This time, however, the Liberal government is making a detailed legal argument in favour of updating its powers in public and inviting Canadians to weigh in.

Goodale did not refer to the lawful access proposals in a news conference in Edmonton meant to highlight that the Liberals are keeping a promise to consult Canadians on changes to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015, also known as Bill C-51.

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