US Trade Representative calls BC privacy law a trade barrier

The United States Trade Representative has identified BC‘s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) as a trade barrier (see page 60-61), but the BC government claims it doesn’t have any records of complaints or communications with the USTR.

We at BC FIPA have obtained internal USTR documents through the American Freedom of Information Act that show major US companies have complained to the USTR about BC’s requirement that government and other public sector data be stored in Canada.

The documents also show a call scheduled between a senior USTR official and the Ministry of Citizens’ Services in February 2012 to discuss the issue.

However, the BC government responded to FOI requests asking for records related to either the complaints or the USTR call by claiming it has no records related to either.

The documents we obtained from the American government also show the USTR’s concern over increasing use by Canada of the National Security Exception in NAFTA to keep American companies from bidding on Canadian government contracts. These included a new electronic communications system for the federal government and “fully integrated software service” for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Both contracts were restricted to Canadian companies and the data was required to be stored in Canada.

In their public explanation of why they had invoked the national security exception, officials in the Prime Minister’s Office indicated they did not want the Chinese company Huawei taking part in the construction of the communications network.

However, the USTR documents quote a senior Canadian trade official as saying the reason was “privacy concerns stemming from the Patriot Act”.

Canadians should not feel smug, however. The European Parliament is going to re-examine whether our privacy laws are adequate to allow data transfer with Europe. This comes as part of the fallout from the revelations by Edward Snowden that our electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is working hand in glove with the US National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept an enormous amount of communications from all over the planet.

FIPA joins coalition against Trans-Pacific Partnership

The ink was barely dry on the federal government’s new copyright reform bill when they signed on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a controversial new trade agreement that could toss that piece of legislation under the bus, along with the minimal protections it provided to Canadians who use intellectual property.

That’s just one reason why FIPA has joined the new Stop The Trap Coalition, brought together by OpenMedia International to oppose the TPP.

Leaked chapters from the agreement point to a truly global overhaul of intellectual property rights enforcement practices that would undermine Canada’s ability to create and enforce its own intellectual property laws-laws that make sense for citizens. OpenMedia says the TPP

“…would give Big Media new powers to lock users out of our own content and services, provide new liabilities that might force ISPs to police our online activity, and give giant media companies even greater powers to shut down websites and remove content at will. It also encourages ISPs to block accused infringers’ Internet access, and could force ISPs to hand over our private information to big media conglomerates without appropriate privacy safeguards.”

Like so many other international negotiations, the TPP has been a behind-closed-doors deal. Even though Canadians could now be subject to increased scrutiny, surveillance, and criminalization, they’ve been locked out of the discussion from the beginning. It’s hard to see this scheme as anything other than policy laundering-governments using “international obligations” like the TPP as an excuse to impose unpopular and even oppressive legislation on their own citizens.

This week, Canada officially joined the TPP and according to Gillian Shaw at the Vancouver Sun, is set to take part in the 15th round of negotiations in Auckland in early December. By doing so, our government has implicitly agreed to everything that was set out in the first 14 rounds, even though we had absolutely no say in those proceedings.

FIPA is a long-time defender of the privacy rights of citizens, and we work hard to advance the values of openness, accountability, and transparency. The TPP, on both procedural and substantive grounds, shows flagrant disregard for those rights and values. That’s why we’re committed to collaborating with organizations around the world to stop it in its tracks.

If you share our concern, visit the Stop The Trap campaign page today and add your voice by signing the petition. Stand up for transparency, accountability, and privacy.

Canadian and US Governments deliver ‘month late, dollar short’ border privacy deal

The day before the beginning of a long weekend in both Canada and the United States, our governments finally released perimeter security privacy protection principles that were supposed to have been completed on May 30. It really wasn’t worth the wait.

You can see the full text of the document here.

Adding irony to the Canadian announcement is the fact that it was made on the 30th anniversary of the federal Access to Information Act. What the government just announced will certainly provide more access to Canadians personal information to the US and other governments.

Under the privacy principles, the two governments will be able to share our personal information with other countries without notice to citizens, but only if there is an ‘agreement or arrangement’ in place with the third country. An arrangement can be as simple as an agreement between officials made by email or over the telephone, so these protections are largely illusory.

The Beyond the Border deal signed late last year allows the US to disclose private Canadian information to other countries if it deems that disclosure to be in the interest of national security. According to the principles, the only oversight this disclosure receives is from the disclosing country itself, and is carried out in accordance only with “the domestic law of the receiving country.”

Another troubling feature is the vague language around “Transparency and Notice.” The document states that “the United States and Canada are to provide individuals, as required by law, with general and, as appropriate, individual notice, at least to the purpose of the provision, receipt and use of personal information that concerns the individual, the identity of the entity controlling that information” Yet nowhere in the principles are the terms of that ‘appropriateness’ specified or defined.

The Harper government has brought forward several initiatives to change the domestic law of Canada to reduce privacy protections. These include the online spying bill, C-30, which was the subject of a massive wave of protest when it was first introduced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the co-author of these privacy principles. That Bill would provide more access to Canadians’ personal information, and another–Bill C-12–would prevent ISPs and others from telling customers that their information has been collected by the police or other government authorities.

FIPA will continue to track and respond to these actions.

Media coverage of the deal is available here.

Warning from Canada’s Privacy Commissioners: Privacy concerns not being addressed in Canada-US Perimeter Security plan

Canada’s federal government should take all steps necessary to ensure he standards and values behind Canadian privacy laws are not diminished as programs to fulfill the Canada-US perimeter security action plan aredeveloped, say Canada’s privacy guardians.

Recommendations made by the federal Privacy Commissioner in a
June 2011 submission to government are not addressed in the Perimeter Security Action Plan nor have the governments specifically addressed privacy concerns related to this initiative.

On April 2, 2012, Canada’s federal and provincial Privacy Commissioners issued a joint resolution which includes the following recommendations:

• Any initiatives under the plan that collect personal information should also include appropriate redress and remedy mechanisms to review files for accuracy, correct inaccuracies and restrict disclosures to other countries;

• Parliament, provincial Privacy Commissioners and civil society should be engaged as initiatives under the plan take shape;

• Information about Canadians should be stored on Canadian soil whenever feasible or at least be subject to Canadian protection; and

• Any use of new surveillance technologies within Canada such as unmanned aerial vehicles must be subject to appropriate controls set out in a proper regulatory framework.

Click Here for the full joint resolution.