On Tuesday, the Canadian Senate voted in favor of the controversial Bill C-51 with a count of 44-28. The bill, which hundreds of thousands of Canadians have spoken out against, can criminalize political discussion even when it’s conducted in private. It centralizes data kept on citizens, empowers intelligence services to make arrests, and even allows intelligence to conduct disruptive operations such as altering a seized website or conducting a man-in-the-middle attack.
Perhaps most troubling, the bill identifies a host of activities that could “undermine the security of Canada.” One such activity is “interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence.” Worryingly, this vague language suggests that the government could use it as a pretext to clamp down on encryption. Yet the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has concluded that “encryption and anonymity enable individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression in the digital age.” Canada’s law thereby threatens the ability of Canadians — and anyone traveling there — to protect their security online and exercise these rights.
The timing of the bill’s adoption is especially disturbing, given that another Senate south of the Canadian border recently passed legislation to address bulk domestic surveillance. The USA FREEDOM Act is the first major reform of surveillance in a generation in the U.S., a country that is viewed as one of the more draconian members of the “Five Eyes.” It is disheartening to see Canada, another “Eye” in the group, head in the opposite direction.
Several Canadian political parties have pledged to repeal C-51. If we compare the support that the bill received in the House of Commons (roughly 60 percent of the members voted in favor at the third reading on May 6th) to the recent Senate vote (40 percent in favor), we see a positive trend. Canada remains a constitutional monarchy, so any bill that makes it through parliament still needs “royal assent.” In order for C-51 to become law, the governor general will give “royal assent” in place of the Queen. This is expected to happen shortly.
Let’s keep up the pressure. Canadians, add your voice through our friends at OpenMedia to help repeal C-51.
credit: Mike Head