It’s election time — and it’s the most important election that Canadian internet users have ever faced.
The last few years have been deeply worrying for anyone who cares about keeping their private lives private. Through their actions, this government has mounted a systematic assault on the privacy rights of all Canadians.
Most famously, their highly unpopular Bill C-51 has been widely condemned by privacy and security experts for empowering CSIS to conduct dragnet information collection on law-abiding Canadians. Now that the bill has passed, 17 government agencies and even foreign governments have access to our sensitive private information.
And that’s just for starters: Bill C-51 will also criminalize peaceful protestors and indigenous communities, censor free speech, and allow the government to pick and choose which parts of the population to subject to surveillance.
Remarkably, Bill C-51 even enables CSIS to go to a secret court hearing and apply for permission to explicitly break the law, including by contravening Canadians’ Charter rights.
And C-51 is just part of this government’s terrible track record on privacy. We know from documents exposed by Edward Snowden just how spy agencies like Canada’s CSE and the American NSA are analyzing and collecting details of our private online activity on a huge scale — vacuuming up information that can be used to build deeply revealing profiles on all of us.
We’re talking about sensitive information that can reveal everything from your sexual orientation, to your financial status, your medical history, and even your religious and political beliefs.
That’s not all. In August, CBC News revealed that the government is actively planning new systems to enable the police to obtain “real-time or near real-time” access to our private information without a warrant.
This flies in the face of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 2014 that prohibited the police from obtaining our private information without a warrant — a ruling that was desperately needed as police had been making such requests a staggering 1.2 million times a year, or once every 27 seconds.
People’s livelihoods and careers have already been ruined by the widespread sharing of their private information with foreign agencies, including US immigration authorities. To take a specific example, numerous law-abiding Canadians have reported being denied entry to the US because Canadian police handed their private mental health records over to US authorities.
Thankfully, this concerted government onslaught has prompted Canadians from across the political spectrum, including many principled grassroots conservatives, to come together to defend our privacy rights.
The Privacy Coalition that launched in late 2013 is strikingly diverse, including groups spanning the political spectrum from left to right. Proudly standing with us of course was Pink Triangle Press (PTP), publisher of Daily Xtra. Explaining the decision to join the coalition, PTP’s president Ken Popert said he was especially concerned about the disproportionate impact of state surveillance on LGBT people.
“The deeper issue here is that the whole politics of equality do not address the content of our sexual and emotional lives, and those are the things that remain vulnerable to surveillance abuse,” he said.
Popert said those words nearly two years ago, but today they are truer than ever. With the passage of invasive spying bills like C-13 and C-51, along with a whole series of revelations about what spy agencies are up to, we’ve clearly reached a tipping point.
This election, Canadians need to decide whether to continue to go down this road toward more and more all-enveloping government surveillance — or whether to push back and start making a concerted effort to roll back the surveillance state.
In the coming weeks, OpenMedia will be publishing report cards grading all the political parties as to their stance on privacy, alongside other pressing digital rights issues. Already there are encouraging signs — not least the unequivocal commitment by the NDP and the Greens (along with smaller parties including the Libertarians) to completely repeal Bill C-51. But for this to work, we need to ensure all Canadians can cast an informed ballot on October 19.