The CCLA seeks to ensure that personal privacy is adequately respected by police when they are handling personal information. This is particularly important in the context of procedures that may result in the disclosure of personal information, such as background checks.
Privacy is part of the Public Safety program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.
By Cara Zwibel
on November 26, 2013
The federal government recently introduced Bill C-13, a law it says is aimed at addressing the problem of cyberbullying and the tragic teen suicides that have resulted from this problem. If passed into law, the Bill would amend the Criminal Code and other laws in a number of ways; first, by creating a new offence around distributing intimate images; and second by giving police officers a number of new investigative powers and tools to deal with online crime.
Unfortunately, these changes are unlikely to address the very real problem of cyberbullying and will intrude into Canadians’ privacy in new and concerning ways. Many of the proposed amendments are powers the government previously tried to introduce in their “lawful access” legislation, which was roundly criticized by the CCLA and other groups and which was ultimately abandoned. While Bill C-13 doesn’t go as far as earlier cybersurveillance bills, CCLA remains concerned about the new investigative powers and the impact they will have on personal privacy and freedom of expression. We are also concerned that the new offence related to the distribution of intimate images may be unduly broad and would like to see the Bill amended to make malicious intent an element of the offence.
CCLA will be doing a thorough review of Bill C-13 so check back with us for more details on the civil liberties impact of this proposal.
By Cara Zwibel
on November 15, 2013
The Supreme Court of Canada has issued its decision in Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401, which challenged Alberta’s private sector privacy legislation on the basis that it interfered with a union’s expressive activities on a picket line. The Court has held that Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act does infringe freedom of expression in a way that is not reasonable or justified and has struck the law down on that basis. However, the Alberta legislature has twelve months to change the law before the decision comes into effect.
The case arose when workers at Edmonton’s Palace Casino went on strike and decided to video record their picket line. This is a common practice among unions and is one way to try to persuade people not to cross the line. In this case, the union put up a notice that the line was being recorded and advised people that their images might be posted on a website – casinoscabs.ca. Although this was not actually done, a number of people made complaints to Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner who found that the union’s activities breached the Personal Information Protection Act. As a result, the union challenged the constitutionality of the Act, arguing that it infringed the union’s expressive freedoms in a way that could not be justified by the privacy interests it aimed to serve.
CCLA intervened in the case to urge the Court to balance both freedom of expression and the right to privacy – both important constitutional values that are worthy of protection. CCLA pointed out that an individual does not forfeit their rights to privacy simply by being in a public space. At the same time, the union’s expressive freedoms at issue here needed to be taken seriously and the fact that the Act didn’t carve out space for this kind of expression was problematic. CCLA is pleased that the Court’s decision recognizes the importance of both freedom of expression and privacy and will be watching to see what changes the Alberta legislature makes in amending the existing legislation.
Read CCLA’s factum here.
Read the Supreme Court’s decision here.
By Dora Chan
on November 13, 2013
This Saturday, November 16, 2013, CCLA is co-sponsoring a Teach-in on University e-Services Outsourcing to U.S. Corporations at the University of Toronto.
The extraordinary scope and intensity of NSA surveillance programs have governments and enterprises around the world scrambling to reduce their exposure to rampant state surveillance. Canadian universities’ growing outsourcing of their e-services, particularly to US corporations, have put them on the frontline of the debate on how to respond to the recent Snowden revelations. Outsourcing of email, calendaring, data sharing and other communications services promises improved functionality and enhanced collaboration features while saving costs. However, it brings new surveillance risks, especially when contracting with companies involved with the NSA’s PRISM program, such as Microsoft and Google.
This teach-in aims to help affected users, and Canadians more generally, understand the issues at stake as well as contribute to better informed decisions around university e-service outsourcing. The one day event seeks to bring together privacy, security, surveillance and outsourcing experts with representatives of various stakeholders in an open and stimulating exchange of views.
The timing and focus of this teach-in is occasioned by the University of Toronto’s proposed outsourcing of staff and faculty email to Microsoft. With the official consultation process nearly completed, a decision on the proposal is expected in the coming weeks.
Please join us in what promises to be a lively and informative event!
Heidi Bohaker, Department of History, University of Toronto
Caspar Bowden, former Microsoft chief privacy advisor
Robert Cook, Chief Information Officer, University of Toronto
Avner Levin, Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute, Ryerson University
Sukanya Pillay, Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
Scott Prudham, President, University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA)
Roger Singh, Chief Technology Officer, Scalar Decisions
Paul Tsang/alternate, President, United Steelworkers Local 1998
Jim Turk, Executive Director, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)
Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting
Identity Privacy and Security Institute (IPSI)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)
United Steelworkers Local 1998
Privacy and Cyber Crime Institute, Ryerson University
University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA)
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT)
While the event is open to public and there is no fee for attendance, space may be limited, so we ask that you indicate your intention to participate via the Teach-in’s Facebook page or emailing the organizer
For background and opinion regarding UofT’s proposed outsourcing, see my (AC) personal University of Toronto email Outsourcing Project FAQ.
By Abby Deshman
on November 7, 2013
Traditionally when the police get a warrant, they have broad authority to search through anything in the house that might uncover the evidence they are looking for. If the warrant says they can look for documents, they do not need specific authorization to look inside filing cabinets, cupboards or boxes that are inside the house. But what about electronic devices? Does a general authorization to look for documents mean they can search through your computer, your smart phone, and every account connected to them? Is a computer just like any other physical ‘thing’ in your house that the police may want to search, or does it present unique privacy interests? The CCLA intervened in R. v. Vu to address precisely this question, and urged the Supreme Court to find that the traditional rules for warrant-authorized searches needed to be tightened when it came to computers.
On November 7 2013 the Supreme Court released its decision, and strongly affirmed that computers and smart phones present unique privacy interests – and therefore require unique privacy protections. The Court ruled that computers are not mere ‘things’ but operate more like a separate ‘place’, or a portal to many separate places, each of which have the potential to hold vast amounts of private, personal information. In addition, unlike traditional household ‘things’, they track the user’s movements and actions by default – creating a trail of activity that most owners are unaware of and unable to delete. As explained by Justice Cromwell,
The privacy interests implicated by computer searches are markedly different from those at stake in searches of receptacles such as cupboards and filing cabinets. Computers potentially give police access to vast amounts of information that users cannot control, that they may not even be aware of or may have chosen to discard and which may not be, in any meaningful sense, located in the place of the search.
CCLA had also urged the Court to recognize a constitutional requirement on the police to document their search steps. Ensuring that, when a computer is searched, the search is no more intrusive or extensive than authorized is a key component to limiting privacy invasions. Indeed, in the Vu case, one police officer admitted he purposely took no notes of his computer search because doing so would have meant he would have to testify about his actions in court. Although the Supreme Court declined to make search documentation a constitutional requirement, they did denounce the police conduct in this case, ruling that the police officer’s conduct was “clearly improper and cannot be condoned” and that “notes of how a search is conducted should … be kept, absent unusual or exigent circumstances.”
From now on, if police officers want to search computers pursuant to a warrant, they will have to get specific authorization to do so. And they had better take notes while they’re at it.
Read CCLA’s factum before the Supreme Court
Read the Supreme Court’s decision
By Abby Deshman
on September 27, 2013
The Supreme Court released its decisions in R. v. MacKenzie and R. v. Chehil this morning, a pair of cases involving police searches with sniffer dogs and the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard. CCLA is concerned that the Court’s general formulation of the reasonable suspicion standard – that the evidence must support a possibility of criminal behaviour in light of the circumstances – sets a very low bar for authorizing police detentions and searches. Moreover, while a number of CCLA’s points were reflected in the Court’s broad statement of principles, the application of principles in these appeals gives rise to serious concerns about courts’ ability to meaningfully scrutinize and restrain police behaviour in such circumstances.
Currently under Canadian law, police are authorized to conduct a warrantless sniffer dog search if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that an individual is involved in criminal activity. CCLA had argued that a rigorous, restrictive approach must be taken when examining the content of the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard. As Justice Binnie stated in the first Supreme Court case that considered this issue, the court’s after-the-fact examination of police conduct is the only protection an individual has against this particular form of unlawful searches. CCLA urged the Court to clarify that the police must be able to offer objectively-verifiable evidence, and a proven link between ‘suspicious’ facts they observed and crime. Over-reliance on generalized malleable ’profiles’ of criminals or unsupported assertions of police expertise opens the door to stereotyping and profiling. Assertion of rights – in particular the right to silence – must not be used to contribute to an officer’s ‘reasonable suspicion’. And finally, the number of innocent people who could be falsely caught up in warrantless searches and detentions must also be taken into consideration.
The unanimous judgment in Chehil does reflect a number of CCLA’s points. In particular, the Court held that exercise of Charter rights should not provide grounds for reasonable suspicion, and that stereotyping and discriminatory factors have “no place” in the reasonable suspicion analysis. The Court also affirmed that a “police officer’s educated guess must not supplant … rigorous and independent scrutiny” and that “[a] method of searching that captures an inordinate number of innocent individuals cannot be reasonable, due to the unnecessary infringement of privacy and personal dignity that an arrest would bring.” CCLA also welcome’s the Court’s rejection of the government’s arguments that individuals do not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in airports.
The application of these principles, however, gives a potentially alarming latitude to the police to stop, search and detain private individuals. In the MacKenzie case, the trial judge had concluded that there was not enough to support a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that Mr. MacKenzie was trafficking drugs. The trial court’s summary of the officer’s reasons for suspicion included “the driver’s “very high level of nervousness”; … the pinkish hue of the driver’s eyes, which in the police officer’s opinion is consistent with the use of marihuana; and the course of travel of the driver, which was from Calgary to Regina.” Although the officer testified that Calgary was a known source of narcotics and Regina was a known destination of sale, no evidence was offered to support that opinion. The BC Court of Appeal overturned the trial court, ruling that the officer’s observations were enough to support a “reasonable suspicion” that Mr. MacKenzie was trafficking drugs. Similarly, in the Chehil case, the “reasonable suspicion” was based on the observations that Mr. Chehil was travelling alone, that he had bought a one-way ticket from Vancouver to Halifax at the airline counter using cash, and that he had checked a relatively new, locked suitcase. Again, the trial judge found there was not enough objective evidence to support a reasonable suspicion, and the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned the ruling.
The majority of the Supreme Court held that, in both cases, the searches were justified based on the officers’ observations, training and experience. CCLA is concerned that the vague, broad nature of the ‘evidence’ upholding the searches in these cases will open the door to police conducting searches and detentions of vast numbers of innocent individuals. The Association particularly agrees with the strong dissent in MacKenzie, that the ‘evidence’ identified by the police officer should not have been sufficient to support a privacy-intrusive search. Although we will need to wait for future cases to determine how the standard is being interpreted and applied by lower courts, CCLA is concerned that the majority’s application of principles to the facts will open the door for the police to engage in speculative searches and detentions based on generalized suspicion and after-the-fact justifications.
To read the Court’s decision in Chehil click here.
To read the Court’s decision in MacKenzie click here.
To read the CCLA’s factum in the appeal click here.
By Peter Goffin
on September 6, 2013
This morning, US politics, culture and news site Salon.com published an article titled “5 techniques for maintaining Web confidentiality.”
Web users have lost control over who sees their information, the piece argues. That’s because companies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are trading their users’ data for advertising revenue.
What the piece doesn’t mention is that, in addition to being collected by corporations, web user data is gathered by government agencies as well. It appears that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been conducting mass surveillance of citizens’ personal information, without disclosing the full nature of this program to the public.
CCLA is committed to protecting your online privacy. Check out our backgrounder on Unlawful Access to learn more.
And, for more techniques that protect your online information, come to the 2013 RightsWatch Conference, which will include a showcase of hands-on tools and projects designed to protect web user privacy and enable freedom of expression.
Register for the conference at https://secure.commonground.convio.com/canadiancivilliberties/rightswatch2013/.
By Peter Goffin
on September 5, 2013
By Peter Goffin
on August 30, 2013
The American Civil Liberties Union notched a big win for rights and freedoms this week. On August 28, a US federal court acknowledged that certain constitutional rights could be put at risk by American No Fly List procedure.
The ACLU had filed a lawsuit against the American government, charging that the existing No Fly List system violated the US constitution’s Fifth Amendment which, among other tenets, prevents the government from depriving a person of liberty without due process of law. “The No Fly List procedures violate due process because the government refuses to provide any explanation or a hearing for innocent Americans to challenge their inclusion,” ACLU Staff Attorney Nusrat Choudhury said in a press release.
It has been estimated that there over 20,000 people on the American No Fly List. The only way for them to have their name removed from it is to file a request with Homeland Security’s “Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.” Then, the only way for one to find out whether they have been cleared to fly is to buy a plane ticket and attempt to board.
In addition to recognizing the constitutional implications of List procedure, the court asked both the ACLU and the American government to submit further information on the No Fly List name-removal process, so that the court might determine whether or not it does violate the Fifth Amendment.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has a long history of standing up against intrusive US air safety measures. In 2010, CCLA appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to oppose Bill C-42, which allowed Canadian airlines to give passenger information and name records to the US Transport Security Authority. As C-42 lacked adequate legal safeguards and oversight, CCLA deemed it too dangerous to pass. The bill was eventually approved by Parliament and is now on its way to becoming law.
In 2011, CCLA reacted to the case of a UK man who was prevented by two Canadian airlines from flying home from Toronto because he was on the US No Fly List. Included in our response is this article, outlining the need to protect Canadians from C-42’s overreaching scope.
By Peter Goffin
on August 29, 2013
Canadians are divided on the issue of government online surveillance. According to a poll conducted by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 49 per cent of those asked said Internet spying was completely unacceptable, while 47 per cent said it was acceptable in some circumstances.
The poll findings have raised questions about Canadians’ attitudes towards privacy. But perhaps the more troubling statistic from the report, though, is that only 39 per cent of respondents believed the government was monitoring their Internet habits. Fifteen per cent didn’t believe the government to be spying, while 46 per cent were unsure. CIRA President Byron Holland dispelled the idea that Canada’s government was keeping tabs on the Internet, telling the Canadian Press that “It’s certainly my understanding in the Canadian landscape that we’re not doing anything like the Americans are doing.”
And yet, according to other reports, the Canadian government most certainly collecting information about its citizens. They even have their own agency with that distinct purpose. Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been collecting metadata, including phone records and IP addresses, off and on since 2005.
OpenMedia.ca has launched an advocacy campaign against CSEC. Visit http://secretspying.ca/ to learn more, and to sign an online petition calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson to end programs that conduct “indiscriminate and arbitrary online spying.”
If you are concerned about online privacy, check out our September 20-21 conference, RightsWatch 2013: Civil Liberties and Democracy in the Digital Age.
By Abby Deshman
on July 31, 2013
Do you care about privacy, freedom of expression, and technology? Have research or an innovative project you’d like to showcase? Apply to share your initiatives or volunteer at the RightsWatch Conference this September!
Each year the Canadian Civil Liberties Association hosts the RightsWatch Conference - this year we’re partnering with Ryerson University to host a discussion on Civil Liberties and Democracy in the Digital Age: Privacy, Media and Free Expression. The conference will take place on September 20-21 in Toronto (find out more and register here).
As part of the conference we would like to include a showcase of hands-on tools and projects to protect user privacy and enable freedom of expression. These can be cool new technologies, grassroots education initiatives, concrete campaigns for reform – or anything else you or your organization does that relates to the conference theme.
Our hope is that conference attendees will be able to learn about a variety of practical ways to safeguard and manage their own digital privacy, exercise freedom of speech, and hold governments and other organizations to account in these areas.
We’re also looking for volunteers capable of providing technical information on digital security to RightsWatch participants in the form of accessible, hands-on support. These volunteers will work as a team to share information on tools and tactics (like GPG, 2-step verification, full disk encryption, strong passwords, encrypted chat systems, managing social media privacy settings) with conference attendees.
If you or your organization is interested in taking part, please contact us with a paragraph explaining your project or experience and how you hope to contribute to RightsWatch. You can email Abby at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited, so get in touch as soon as possible.