Canada’s Harper government’s release of new anti-terrorism legislation, called Bill C-51, would grant expanded police and intelligence powers to agencies such as the RCMP if passed. Part of Bill C-51 would allow the government to remove terrorist propaganda from the Internet, provided a judicial order and approval from the Atttorney General are present. This would mean that a judge can order an Internet service providers (ISPs) to remove web content determined to be terrorist propaganda.
Christopher Parsons, who directs the Citizen Lab’s Telecom Transparency project, told the CBC that he had concerns with the privacy implications of Bill C-51, in particular the manner in which it provides judges with the ability to identify and locate the person who posted the terrorist propaganda online. This would be done by contacting the user’s ISP for the information.
He explained that given the Supreme Court of Canada’s June 2014 ruling that Canadians have a right to Internet anonymity, which can only be violated by law enforcement with a warrant, he had concerns with ISPs’ handing over this information. He cited the need for a judicial process to ensure that personal information is only disclosed to government agencies with warrants. He also said that the government’s definition of terrorist propaganda may be too broad, and infringe on the political and artistic speech content on the Internet as a result.
Parsons also commented on a document offering new insights into Canada’s electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), and it’s power to target domestic citizens. Nearly 400,000 emails to the government are collected every day, and the document, dated from 2010, also indicated that this data could be stored for years. Other information stored included users’ visits to government websites, involving activities such as filing taxes, writing to members of Parliament and passport applications.
The storage program is slated to be part of an initiative to protect government servers from hackers, criminals, and foreign aggressors. The CSE said that “specific communications” are examined if they are suspected to relate to a cyberthreat targeted at government of Canada networks.
Parsons was skeptical of the motives to collect this data, and explained that though there were legitimate purposes for collecting such information, it is not clear that such a volume of collection is necessary.
“You should be able to communicate with your government without the fear that what you say … could come back to haunt you in unexpected ways,” Parsons said. He added that “when we collect huge volumes, it’s not just used to track bad guys. It goes into data stores for years or months at a time and then it can be used at any point in the future.”
Though the criminal code bars CSE from eavesdropping on Canadians’ communications, the agency is allowed Ministerial exemptions if investigations are directed towards protecting government infrastructure. This is believed to be the loophole that allows for email and online traffic monitoring of this sort.