FIPA and allies call for answers on secret government spying program

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has joined together with civil liberties, pro-democracy, privacy, and open internet advocacy groups across the country to demand answers and immediate action from the government after it was revealed that a secretive government agency has been spying on the telephone and Internet activities of individuals, including law-abiding Canadians.

Organizations speaking out today include the Council of Canadians, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Leadnow,, the Privacy & Access Council of Canada, the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association, and the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). Many of these same organizations worked together on last year’s campaign that successfully defeated the government’s online spying bill C-30.

Alongside these allies, FIPA is putting the following declaration to Defense Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. We encourage Canadians to join us by adding their voices at

We deserve to know if our private information is being collected and stored in giant unsecured databases. We call on the government to make public the details of Canadian foreign intelligence agencies online spying and data sharing activities, including those involving foreign states. We demand an immediate stop to any programs of indiscriminate and arbitrary online spying.

The revelation of widespread online spying in Canada comes hot on the heels of reports that the U.S. government has been caught spying on all its citizens through its massive PRISM spying system, which captures data transmitted by cell phones as well as popular online services like Google, Facebook, and Skype.

In 2011, Minister MacKay authorized a secretive spying agency called the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) to scour the Internet and phone records of millions of people, including Canadian citizens – despite warnings from the privacy commissioner.

According to online surveillance expert Ron Deibert, CSEC spying gives them the power to “pinpoint not only who you are, but with whom you meet, with what frequency and duration, and at which locations.”

“We’ve already been hearing from angry citizens who are outraged by the government’s invasion of their privacy,” says Executive Director Steve Anderson. “Hasn’t the government learned its lesson for it’s defeated spying Bill C-30 that Canadians value their privacy? Its time for answers and an immediate end to invasive collection of our sensitive private information without oversight or accountability.”

Privacy law expert Tamir Israel said today, “Individuals need to understand the true scope and nature of how Canada’s foreign intelligence apparatus is using the broad surveillance powers it has been granted by Parliament. Absent such an understanding, they cannot ensure their rights are secure from excessive and disproportionate surveillance activities.”

This coalition believes that Canadians deserve clear answers from the government to a number of important questions:

    • What are the scope and parameters of CSEC’s domestic surveillance activities? Do these approach the indiscriminate scope of the NSA under comparable powers?
    • What is the extent to which Canadians are incidentally or otherwise captured in CSEC’s surveillance activities? Specifically, how many individuals, including law-abiding Canadians, have had their information collected as a result of CSEC’s surveillance programs?

What is the scope of the government’s information sharing activities with foreign partners? Does CSEC have the same type of access to NSA portals such as PRISM as its UK counterpart, GCHQ,”reportedly” has?

  • Will the government restrict CSEC’s powers to ensure that the use of these powers is subject to public debate and that individuals can generally be aware of the conditions under which their communications and activities might be surveilled?
  • Will the government curtail the overly broad and indiscriminate powers granted to CSEC in the past decade, so that they can only be used against individuals reasonably suspected of wrongdoing?

Canadians deserve and must demand better than this from their government. Visit and send a clear message to Ottawa today: we have the right to keep our private lives private.

BC privacy commissioner issues guidelines for use of cloud computing by public bodies

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for BC has
published guidelines for public bodies considering the benefits and
risks of cloud computing.

“Cloud computing” refers to the practice of using the Internet to
process, manage and store data on remote network services, rather
than on one’s own computer hard drives.

As the popularity of cloud computing grows, public bodies (including
schools, hospitals, municipalities and local police forces) are looking
to take advantage of the cost-savings and functionality these
services offer. But the use of cloud computing by both public bodies
and private enterprises in Canada is controversial.

If the servers on which information is stored are located in a foreign
country, any personal information stored may be outside of the
jurisdiction of Canadian privacy laws and subject to foreign laws that provide far less privacy protection, such as the infamous USA Patriot Act.

The Commissioner’s report provides information to public bodies about how BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act applies to the use of cloud computing, including:

• Data storage and access: The law requires that personal information in the custody or under the control of a public body be stored and accessed only in Canada, subject to limited exceptions, and

• Data security: The law requires public bodies to take reasonable
steps to protect personal information against such risks as unauthorized access, collection, use, disclosure or disposal.

Commissioner’s news release

Cloud Computing Guidelines for Public Bodies

Backlash against online spying bill has Conservative government running scared

The federal Conservatives’ online spying bill is back in Parliament
and bad as ever … but opposition to the bill has been ferocious,
and the feds may have to reconsider some of the most controversial

Bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act is
the latest version of a long string of lawful access bills and it has
the government desperately backpedaling from enraged back-
benchers, privacy commissioners, civil libertarians, internet freedom
advocates and many other Canadians.

Check out the Stop Online Spying Campaign.

The Prime Minister has agreed to send the bill directly to committee
where the government will be prepared to entertain “focused”
amendments. It remains to be seen if any proposed amendments
will meet the government’s definition of “focused”, and whether
those amendments will change the essentially repressive nature of
this legislation.

Under the current version of the bill, police, CSIS and other
authorities will be able to get access to various identifiers without
a warrant, which will allow online tracking of Canadians.

Telecommunications providers will have to create back doors into
their systems for law enforcement, which will make it easier to
hackers to break into those systems. The cost of doing this will
be borne by consumers and/or taxpayers.

The government claims they just want to ‘keep up with the bad
guys’ — that the new technologies mean police are being left
behind by the criminals. The Privacy Commissioners have directly
contradicted this, stating that what the government is proposing
is a vast increase in surveillance, not maintaining the status quo.

Click here for the letter from Canada’s privacy commissioners.

Media reports using documents obtained through Access to
Information show that the RCMP expect a major use for these
powers will be “non-criminal”.

Emails from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police released
earlier this year show they were casting about for any examples
where an investigation had been hampered or prevented by the
lack of the powers contained in these online spying bills. To date,
none have been put forward.

Ironically, the day before introducing this bill seriously infringing on
privacy rights of Canadians, Conservative MPs were making
repeated statements about how the federal gun registry violated
the rights of gun owners. Some of those MPs have now said they
have similar concerns with bill C-30.

Minister Vic Toews’ statements in the House yesterday that Canadians “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” shows his contempt for the more than 80,000 people who signed a petition against the bill. He also seems to accuse every one of Canada’s Privacy Commissioners of being a supporter of child pornography. A big apology is in order, and has yet to come from the Minister of Public Safety.

For news coverage, click here.

Report says “Lawful Access” proposals are moving Canada towards a surveillance society

The BC Civil Liberties Association has issued a timely and comprehensive report on soon-to-be introduced “lawful access” bills to expand police surveillance powers.

The federal government has announced that it will soon be introducing legislation to increase the ability of police to intercept private communications and access more personal information stored electronically.

The BCCLA’s new report explains each of the proposals and looks at how the courts are likely to view the balancing of law enforcement and citizens’ rights.

“Canadians are hugely concerned about online surveillance,” said Micheal Vonn, Policy Director of the BCCLA. “New technologies are already a huge boon to police conducting surveillance and a huge threat to privacy rights. Now the government wants to lower the legal standards for access to this giant storehouse of citizens’ private information.

“Other countries have gone down this road, and we have seen that this
is not a recipe for better law enforcement, it’s a recipe for pervasive
surveillance and abuse.”

The report offers evidence that law enforcement agents are very likely to abuse online spying powers. The US and the UK have had their own versions of the online spying bills for some time, and a staggering number of violations by officials have been documented in both countries.

The report also finds that the proposal to require all telecommunications service providers to provide “back doors” into their systems that the police can use for surveillance jeopardizes the security of telecommunications systems and heightens the risk of exploitation by hackers.

Moving Towards a Surveillance Society– Proposals to Expand
“Lawful Access” in Canada”
is available Here

Stop Online Spying Campaign: Close to 80,000 people have signed
Open Media’s petition opposing increased surveillance powers for police: