Monday, October 31, 2011

Privacy alarm bell tolls for thee, Harper government

On the heels of the statement from the Canadian Privacy Commissioner last week, the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario adds her voice to the chorus warning of the dangers of the Harper government's coming lawful access legislation:
...we must be extremely careful not to allow the admitted investigative needs of police forces to interfere with or violate our constitutional right to be secure from unreasonable state surveillance. The proposed surveillance powers come at the expense of the necessary privacy safeguards guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government must be persuaded to acknowledge the sensitivity of traffic data, stored data and tracking data, and strongly urged to re-draft the bills. For a start, the proposal for warrantless access to subscriber information is untenable and should be withdrawn. If special access to subscriber information is considered to be absolutely necessary, it must take place under a court-supervised regime.

The government needs to step back and consider all of these implications. A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis should precede the entrenchment of so many significant public policy decisions. Public Parliamentary hearings must also be scheduled to ensure that civil society, as well as the telecom industry, has a full opportunity to provide input.

Canadians must press the federal government to publicly commit to enacting much-needed oversight legislation in tandem with any expansive surveillance measures. Intrusive proposals require, at the very least, matching legislative safeguards. The courts, affected individuals, future Parliaments and the public must be well informed about the scope, effectiveness and damaging negative effects of such intrusive powers.

We can, and must, have both greater security and privacy, in unison. It cannot be one at the expense of the other. The true value of privacy must be recognized in any effort to modernize law enforcement powers. Imposing a mandatory surveillance regime on the public and its telecom service providers must not go forward without strong safeguards to protect the future of our fundamental freedoms. (emphasis added)
Unlike the other major legislative initiatives this fall, there is time to have public hearings, as suggested. There is no rush for such legislation. Maybe the fact that the government has separated out the lawful access legislation from the omnibus crime bill is an indication that there will be time given to looking at this in detail.

It is very unusual to have someone like the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario issuing such a stark warning. Let's hope that on this occasion, the government is listening to these experts in the field.

As I drink from my glass half full here at my desk.