By Monia Mazigh – The recent appeal by Bob Paulson the RCMP commissioner to the Canadian public about the urgent need to have warrantless access to our communication is worrisome for multiple reasons.
Fighting cybercrime is crucial as well as fighting all other forms of crimes but that never be done at the expense of our privacy rights. The excuses of fighting the horrible perpetrators of child pornography for instance cannot be used as a pretext, no matter how noble and genuine the reason is, to collect data on Internet users.
The climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the Paris attack shouldn’t be used as a carte blanche to ask the population for a warrantless access to their phones.
Most importantly, we have to refresh our memories here and remember that Canada has already many legal (frankly controversial) tools to fight what Mr. Paulson seems to be incapable of fighting.
Indeed since 2009, the Canadian government paired Bills C-46 and C-47 (two bills that previously didn’t pass) and tried to introduce them in Parliament. Both bills were intended to extend lawful access provisions and create warrantless police access to many aspects of Internet communications such as subscriber data. But that attempt failed.
In 2012, the government tried another time with Bill C-30. It claimed that this bill was intended to fight child pornographers. In reality, this bill again would allow Internet companies to give your name, Internet protocol address and a few other identifiers if the police asked for them, even without a warrant. Also this legislation would allow the government to facilitate centralized, wiretap-style surveillance.
At that time, Canada Justice Minister, Vic Toews, sparked a huge outcry with Bill C-30. In fact, he tried to use the controversial argument of: “you are either with us or with the child pornography supporters”. A huge public backlash ensued and the bill failed.
Finally, in 2014, the government came with Bill C-13: Protecting Canadians from Online Crime. The government introduced this legislation to fight cyberbullying. However, this new legislation does include provisions that permit an increased warrantless access to personal information and increase police spying power for our online activities. The official opposition at that time moved to split the Conservative cyberbullying bill (C-13) in order to put the focus squarely on legislative reform to make the distribution of intimate images without consent illegal. This would have ensured that other unrelated provisions were dealt with separately. But that last proposal didn’t pass and Bill C-13 became law with the support of the Liberals.
Mr. Paulson appeared to wonder why the public doesn’t trust the police. An easy answer is to look at all the errors the police committed in the past and the lack of accountability.
A way to increase or re-establish the trust with the police forces is to implement strong accountability mechanisms and not by asking for more warrantless additional powers that would open the door wide open to likely abuses and less trust.