NDP privacy critic warns about impending e-monitoring law
The NDP is sounding the alarm over a proposed new electronic communications monitoring law, which could end up giving police the power to track the geographical movements of people, while possibly also allowing them to freely scrutinize e-mail, without first having a warrant.
Charlie Angus, the party’s MP for Timmins-James Bay who is also the NDP’s critic for information access and protection of privacy, was in Montreal on Nov. 3 to take part in a forum on communications surveillance. It dealt extensively with the proposed legislation.
The Conservatives, who have had a majority in the House of Commons since last May’s election, appear to be making up for the years when they were only a minority, by taking older bills they failed to pass and re-writing them into updated legislation which they can now enact easily.
Such seems to be the case with the proposed communications law, which according to Angus is the result of a slate of predecessor bills, which contained clauses to provide police specific privileges that the NDP believes would encroach on the rights of individuals.
“I want to make it clear we do not have a problem ensuring that the police have the tools that they need to protect citizens and to fight cybercrime,” Angus said. “But there are key elements of what is being proposed that are very disturbing.”
Number one among those, Angus said, would be the police’s ability to access geographical tracking information without a warrant, “simply on a hunch, or on a whim, or because some cop wants to find out who his ex-wife is seeing. Your cell phone privider and your ISP can extract that information.”
No warrant for tracking info
In response to a question asked in the Commons by Charmaine Borg, the NDP MP for Terrebonne-Blainville, Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stated that the government accepts that warrants should still be required in order for police to access e-mail. However, the government doesn’t take the same position with regards to tracking information.
“This is very disturbing,” said Angus, “because with your cell phone, you can be tracked anywhere in the world. If they have your number they know where you are. So they don’t necessarily need to listen into the conversation to know what you’re doing. The tracking information gives an enormous amount of power to the police.
“And it’s not a question of if abuse will occur,” he continued. “It’s how badly it’s used. If you have these powers and it’s unregulated, power abuse will occur.” Angus compares the Conservative government’s stance on this issue to the position it took when trying to do away with long-form census last year.
“It’s staggering to see a government that destroyed the long-form census on the principle that (former Industry Minister) Tony Clement said if one person in this country feels that their privacy has been invaded that’s enough for us to destroy census data that was seen as the gold standard around the world.
Tories’ census position
“So they were certainly willing to destroy Canada’s international reputation on census gathering over some of the privacy concerns of somebody maybe in Saskatchewan who felt they were asking questions that he or she didn’t have to answer.
“But they would allow the police that kind of extraordinary power. Clearly we can not allow that to happen, because once you allow that to happen then it’s a matter of time before it becomes the business of the day and it is your e-mails and all your other traffic use on the Internet.”
Angus maintains, “If we break down the barrier that exists right now that obliges police to meet basic tests of jurisprudence if they’re going to go and search private data, if we allow that to happen, then you’re opening the doors. If the police can justify this, they should be able to justify it to a (parliamentary) committee.”
Angus said the bill in question has never actually made it far enough to be presented before a House of Commons committee. But, he added, “The implications of the bill are severe and I think we’re going to find that as the public becomes aware of it, there’s going to be major pushback.”