Every day, Canadians connect and communicate by phone, email, text message and an ever-growing range of social media networks. Our communications and our Internet browsing patterns reveal a great deal of sensitive personal information about us. What happens when the government wants to access and monitor that information? When can law enforcement agencies track our online activities and our communications?
Learn more about online surveillance below, and take action!
In recent years, the Canadian government has repeatedly sought to introduce so-called “lawful access” legislation. This proposed legislation would allow law enforcement agencies to access a wealth of information about your communications – without your consent, without a warrant, and without appropriate oversight or accountability mechanisms.
On February 14, 2012, the government unveiled Bill C-30, which would have opened the door to invasive, costly online surveillance. While the government claimed the bill targeted criminals and child pornographers, in fact, the proposed legislation would have violated the privacy rights of all Canadians who use computers, cell phones, GPS devices and the Internet.
The bill would have given law enforcement agencies more power to access, track and monitor a host of online and wireless information – without a warrant. The government argued that Canadian law enforcement needed investigative tools to deal with 21st century technologies, yet CCLA maintains that any new investigative tools must come with accompanying oversight. There are good reasons to require police to obtain warrants and seek judicial oversight before invading individual privacy. The advent of the Internet, email, cell phones and smart phones has not changed Canadians’ basic rights to privacy and freedom from unwarranted government surveillance.
Canadians across the country rallied against the bill, signing petitions and spreading the message through social media. CCLA banded together with other civil society organizations to promote the Stop Online Spying campaign. Over 150,000 Canadians have signed the Stop Online Spying petition and took a stand against invasive online surveillance. In February 2013, the government finally yielded to public pressure and announced that it would be dropping Bill C-30.
The defeat of Bill C-30 sent a resounding message that concerned Canadians have the power to stand together in defense of privacy rights. Yet CCLA is still concerned about developments on the horizon. After all, the government has established a worrying pattern of attempting to introduce lawful access legislation – in 2009, 2010 and 2012 – and then dropping the project. Observers are warning that similar legislation may be repackaged and reintroduced in the future. CCLA will continue to scrutinize any new legislation, to ensure that Canadians’ online privacy rights receive robust protection.
CCLA has raised serious concerns about the secret surveillance of Canadians’ communications and online activities. In June 2013, reports emerged that security and intelligence agencies in the United States and in Canada were conducting mass surveillance of citizens’ personal information, using data obtained from telecom service providers. It appears that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is engaged in an invasive surveillance program to monitor Canadian’s communications – without disclosing the full nature of this program to the public.
CCLA has long been concerned about information sharing among security and intelligence agencies worldwide. We have raised concerns that invasive surveillance regimes that would be illegal in Canada could be employed by foreign agencies – and that information shared with the Canadian government. In this way, governments could circumvent the crucial legal safeguards designed to protect our privacy. Along with the ACLU and Privacy International (UK), CCLA has elaborated 12 Core Legal Principles for the Canada-US Security Perimeter, which include demands for strict safeguards and accountability.
CCLA remains committed to ensuring that security and surveillance don’t come at the cost of Canadians’ fundamental rights.
CCLA is concerned about proposals to amend a key piece of Canadian privacy legislation, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). PIPEDA limits the ability of commercial organizations to collect, store and disclose your personal information. Yet in September 2011, the government introduced Bill C-12, which would widen existing loopholes, and create broad exceptions under which companies could share your personal information with other organizations or with government – without your knowledge or consent.
This proposal comes at a time when privacy experts are calling for more oversight and more privacy protection, not less – for instance, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has emphasized the need to strengthen PIPEDA to respond to today’s digital landscape.
CCLA is also monitoring the progress of Bill C-475, a private member’s bill introduced in February 2013 that proposes its own set of amendments to PIPEDA. Bill C-475 would give the federal Privacy Commissioner more power to enforce orders against non-compliant organizations, and would introduce new rules to address unauthorized privacy breaches.
As the legislative landscape evolves, CCLA continues to advocate for Canadians’ online privacy rights.
1. Barring exceptional circumstances, law enforcement must obtain a warrant on reasonable and probable grounds before gaining access to personal or private information.
2. Before authorizing covert, real-time surveillance, the court must prove that such techniques are truly necessary, and reserve the most intrusive tracking for investigations of serious crimes.
3. New powers of surveillance must be accompanied by measures that safeguard rights before and after the fact.
We have taken a leading role on cutting-edge cases that involve privacy rights and communications technology.
- In March 2013, CCLA celebrated the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R. v. Telus, which confirmed that text messages deserve as much privacy protection as traditional phone conversations.
- The CCLA also intervened in R. v. Fearon, which dealt with police searches of cell phones. CCLA will be watching this case closely as it is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
- CCLA stood up for the privacy of employees in the workplace in R. v. Cole. The Supreme Court recognized, for the first time, that employees do have privacy rights when using a work-issued computer.
- CCLA will be intervening in R. v. Spencer before the Supreme Court, making arguments related to the privacy expectation for IP addresses.
- CCLA intervened at the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. Ward, which dealt with anonymous internet activity.
Check out more of CCLA’s work on privacy issues. And click here for additional resources on Internet surveillance.
Concerned about protecting your privacy? Sign the Stop Secret Spying petition, a campaign supported by a coalition of Canadian organizations including CCLA. Send a clear message to government that Canadians deserve to know who’s collecting and tracking our private information and why.