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National Security reforms: major step forward, but fail to tackle many of Bill C-51’s biggest problems

The government’s new National Security Act 2017 will need to be substantially strengthened as it progresses through Parliament to protect the privacy of Canadians

This morning, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled long-awaited legislation (Bill C-59) to amend Bill C-51, the sweeping surveillance bill passed by the previous federal government. The legislation includes welcome measures such as a new pan-government review body and a tighter definition of "terrorist propaganda”. However it fails to go far enough in tackling other serious problems with Bill C-51, including its broad information sharing provisions and policing powers for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS).

The government’s own consultation on National Security revealed that Canadians have significant concerns regarding privacy and government accountability with regards to sensitive data. Thus, the government’s legislation will need to be substantially strengthened as it progresses through Parliament to address these public concerns and to better protect Canadians’ privacy.

It’s clear that the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who spoke up to protest Bill C-51 are having a real impact, and their actions have resulted in many of the significant and positive changes included in today’s legislation. But Canadians have been calling for the full repeal of Bill C-51 for nearly two years now, and they won’t be appeased by half-measures. Over the months ahead, MPs are sure to hear a great deal from Canadians about how this legislation needs to be strengthened and improved.”

This legislation is a positive step forward, but does not fully address the fundamental privacy concerns expressed by Canadians throughout the government’s own consultation. In particular, we have yet to see any proactive measures to protect Canadians from the use of invasive mass surveillance devices such as Stingrays, or legislative protections for encrypted communication technologies which are critical to our digital and economic security.

Canadians have been calling on the government to repeal Bill C-51 and implement strong privacy safeguards since the controversial legislation was first introduced in early 2015. Prominent among these demands are stronger oversight and accountability measures, rolling back expanded CSIS powers to conduct police activities, repealing provisions that give extremely broad leeway to share personal information between government agencies, and rejecting mandatory data retention laws for telecom companies.

Despite government claims that it listened to the views of Canadians as expressed through its consultation, there are a number of significant outstanding concerns that remain unaddressed by this morning’s proposed legislation. They include:

  • Information sharing — now renamed to “disclosure” under the Act — provisions remain extremely extensive, with few additional restrictions on which government agencies can disclose information;

  • The definition of an “activity that undermines the security of Canada” has been clarified but remains overly broad;

  • Powers permitting CSIS to collect and retain “publicly available” datasets. However CSIS is prohibited from retaining medical information, and must remove Canadian-specific information from foreign datasets.

There were over 58,000 responses to Public Safety’s National Security Consultation, which concluded at the end of 2016. Public Safety’s report summarizing the results showed that those who responded were overwhelmingly in favour of increased protections for personal privacy, with more than four in five responses indicating that their expectation of privacy in the digital world is the same as or higher than in the physical world.

In one of the largest citizen-driven movements ever, over 300,000 Canadians signed a joint petition calling for the complete repeal of Bill C-51.

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