#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 agencies must obey letter of law, Trudeau says amid surveillance fears

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OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau says his government will ensure security and spy agencies follow the “letter and spirit” of the law, amid mounting concerns they have trampled the privacy of journalists and other Canadians.

In a roundtable interview this week with The Canadian Press, the prime minister stressed that national security agencies must protect Canadians but also safeguard the laws and values the public cherishes.

Trudeau’s words come as the Liberal government wraps up a national consultation on federal security policy and they follow two recent episodes that heightened public concern about unwarranted surveillance.

It emerged last month that the Montreal and Quebec provincial police forces had been tracking the communications of several journalists. Only days later, a Federal Court judge found the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had broken the law by keeping and analyzing information about the communications of innocent people — potentially revealing data that was collected during investigations into actual suspects.

There are also nagging questions about whether CSIS has used its considerable powers to monitor media members.

In the interview, Trudeau said the Liberals would “make sure that our security agencies and intelligence agencies obey the letter and the spirit of the laws that frame them.”

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#CyberFLASH: Canada’s ICT industry says no to more police powers to access subscriber data

computer-gimbalThe information and telecommunications industry has lined up almost solidly against suggestions police should have access without a warrant to basic subscriber information they hold.

That’s the take-away from a number of industry association and service provider briefs filed last week as submissions closed for Public Safety Canada’s search for citizen and private sector opinions for a new national security framework.

Public Safety Canada issued a green paper for discussion last September calling for opinions on potentially changing federal laws and policies on several issues including loosening police and intelligence agency access to basic subscriber information, forcing communications service providers to hold for a set period of time to subscribers’ metadata, forcing for all communications service providers to buy communications interception equipment police can use, and making developers of encryption solutions to build in backdoors so law enforcement can unscramble protected documents.

In a word, the answer to all from the industry was “no.”

On warrantless access to basic subscriber information

–Information and telecommunications Association of Canada (ITAC), which lobbies for most of the country’s ITC firms including Bell Canada, Rogers Communications, Telus, IBM, HP-Enterprise and others, said in its submission that improving and standardizing paperwork would speed up police access. It also called for “clear rules designed to avoid police “fishing expeditions” that could contravene judicial requirements and privacy laws.”

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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: Balancing police, power and privacy

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Canadians support more investigative powers for police — with a catch, Nov. 17

Your story declares that Canadians support police demands for more surveillance, even though data from the survey indicates only 34 per cent are confident that new powers will be used “reasonably and according to the law.” Presumably that is why, in every case, the survey found that people want use of these powers to require a warrant from a judge.

Yet while it mentions reports of police spying on journalists and lawbreaking by CSIS, both your story and the survey neglect to mention that warrants were granted inappropriately in the first case, and that CSIS lied to the courts about their actions in the second.

The survey also suggests Canadians support data retention by telecom providers if authorities have a warrant to access the data. However, it wasn’t asked whether they should be able to retain that data before a warrant is granted or only afterwards. Your story assumes, without any justification, that Canadians support retention of data about a person before a warrant is granted.

The report also states that 74 per cent of Canadians have never encrypted their communications, without pointing out that we do so every time we use online banking, or visit an increasing number of websites — including the Star’s! Worst of all, it leaves out that Canadians have a right not to incriminate themselves under the Charter, protecting them against giving their passwords or encryption keys in an investigation.

Finally, the survey suggests 47 per cent of Canadians think there is a right to “complete digital privacy,” while only 23 per cent think it is currently possible to have that privacy.

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#CyberFLASH: Cops followed law in surveilling journalist Lagacé: police chief

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La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé was the only journalist placed under surveillance by Montreal police said SPVM chief Philippe Pichet on Monday.

Pichet was speaking at a press conference given in the wake of the revelation that Lagacé’s iPhone had been monitored by police for months. The revelation had left Montreal’s politicians and media community distraught, with many criticizing the SPVM’s actions.

Pichet defended the investigation, saying it “required exceptional measures,” and the officers involved respected the law when they asked for and obtained the warrant on Lagacé’s phone.

He added that the journalist was the only one placed under surveillance, to the best of his knowledge.

Montreal police special investigators obtained at least 24 surveillance warrants to learn the identities of people with whom La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé was speaking. The Special Investigations squad is responsible for tackling crime within the police bureau, and ostensibly was seeking to determine the source of media leaks.

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#CyberFLASH: Government use of surveillance devices must be restricted: privacy experts

smartphone-2Canada must acknowledge, and then constrain, the government’s use of portable surveillance devices that can indiscriminately dredge data from people’s smartphones without them knowing, privacy experts say.

Everything that is known or suspected about the government’s use of these machines – called “IMSI catchers,” “cell-site simulators” or “Stingrays” – is chronicled in a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind, 130-page report written by privacy experts and released to The Globe and Mail.

Federal police have used these devices for more than a decade, but the practice was confirmed only this year in a series of stories in The Globe. Now, researchers Christopher Parsons and Tamir Israel say it’s time for civil society to debate the pros and cons of IMSI catchers, even if many government agencies still won’t discuss them.

“This ongoing secrecy has the effect of delaying important public debates,” the report says.

The report was commissioned by the Telecom Transparency Project and the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic. They received grants from the Open Society Foundation, privacy activist Frederick Ghahramani, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

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