On eve of Women’s World Cup, Canada poised to undermine encryption


This month, 24 women’s national teams will travel to Canada to compete for the ultimate prize in soccer: the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Yet as the world celebrates, the government of Canada is poised to pass dangerous new surveillance legislation. The latest iteration of the Anti-terrorism Act, also known as Bill C-51, passed the Canadian House of Commons on May 6 and is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill would lead to the reckless censorship of free expression online.

You can tell Canadian lawmakers to reject the bill now.

Worryingly, C-51 stands to criminalize the use of encryption, a vital source of protection for journalists, activists, and marginalized groups. The bill penalizes a host of activities “which undermine the security of Canada.” These include, at the top of the list:

interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.

In addition to the possible chilling effects this poses for indigenous communities, climate activists, and civil society at large, it would not take much for Canadian intelligence services to argue that encryption constitutes such “interference.” Researcher Christopher Parson writes in a report on the Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance for the Telecommunications Transparency Project that “the very fact that a communication is encrypted could itself potentially be used to justify investigations meant to guarantee or protect national security interests.” The clause also stands in stark contrast to the recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression, which recognizes encryption and anonymity as necessary tools to advance human rights, and which calls on governments to “avoid all measures that weaken the security individuals may enjoy online, such as… weak encryption.”

If you happen to be a Canadian citizen, you might believe that your government’s intelligence services would refrain from questioning your potential use of encryption. C-51’s very raison d’être would prove you dead wrong: it was designed to vastly increase the powers of surveiling Canadian citizens.

Access signed onto a joint letter from a wide coalition of organizations fighting C-51 earlier this year. The good news is that there are signs that some Senators are willing to oppose the bill. Members of Parliament should listen to Canadians and reject this reckless, dangerous, and ineffective legislation.

Take action! Tell Canadian lawmakers to reject the bill at https://stopc51.ca/.

photo credit: US Embassy of Canada