News from ICLMG

New parliamentary report demonstrates urgent need to rein in facial recognition, artificial intelligence to protect rights of people in Canada

For immediate release

New parliamentary report demonstrates urgent need to rein in facial recognition, artificial intelligence in order to protect the rights of people in Canada, says civil liberties coalition

Oct. 5, 2022 – A new parliamentary report on facial recognition technology (FRT) and artificial intelligence (AI) released today demonstrates the urgent need for the federal government to regulate the use of facial recognition technology in Canada, says the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), a coalition of 45 Canadian organizations.

“The unregulated use of facial recognition technology, especially by law enforcement, presents an immediate and severe threat to the rights of people in Canada, and particularly to racialized, Indigenous and other over-policed communities,” said Tim McSorley, ICLMG national coordinator. “We fully support the committee’s recommendation of a moratorium on the use of this technology by law enforcement, which must also include intelligence and border service agencies, until appropriate restrictions and rules are put in place.”

The coalition also agrees with the committee that the government must establish no-go zones, particularly for the use of facial recognition for mass surveillance purposes. In 2020, the ICLMG was joined by dozens of Canadian and international organizations and experts in calling for a ban on facial recognition surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Canada.

The new report, Facial Recognition Technology and the Growing Power of Artificial Intelligence, was issued by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics following its months-long study of the issue. The ICLMG testified before the committee and submitted a written brief. Several of the ICLMG’s recommendations were reflected in the committee’s report, including:

  • support for the establishment of “no-go zones” where facial recognition is prohibited;
  • a moratorium on the use of FRT by federal law enforcement until new legislation to regulate police use of FRT is put in place;
  • the need for public consultation in the creation of legislation to govern the use of FRT in Canada overall;
  • the need to grant the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada greater enforcement powers for both public and private sector violations of privacy laws;
  • and the need to create stronger transparency requirements regarding the acquisition, use and impact of FRT in Canada.

The ICLMG hoped the committee would go further in certain areas, and remains concerned that border services and intelligence agencies were not explicitly included in the recommendation for a moratorium on the use of FRT by law enforcement. However, these recommendations will still have a significant impact on addressing the threats posed by FRT and AI overall.

For more than two years, government regulators, civil society groups and leading experts in human rights and technology have been calling for decisive, concrete and transparent action on facial recognition technology by the federal government, but it has largely failed to act. This latest report must lead to the legal reforms that are necessary to rein in facial recognition, and artificial intelligence technology more broadly. The ICLMG also remains open and available to participate in consultations on what these reforms should look like.

“We’d like to thank the committee for their rigorous work in studying facial recognition technology and in drafting their final report,” said McSorley. “The multipartican support for the recommendations makes it clear that urgent action is needed, and that these reforms would receive broad support if introduced in parliament.”

For more information, please contact:
Tim McSorley
National Coordinator, ICLMG
613-241-5298

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Civil Society groups highlight concerns with ‘deeply problematic’ Cybersecurity Bill C-26 ahead of Commons debate

Serious concerns around privacy, accountability, judicial due process, and digital rights set out in open letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

28 September, 2022: The federal government’s cybersecurity legislation, Bill C-26, is deeply problematic and must be fixed. That’s the verdict of Canadian civil society organizations and experts who set out a series of detailed concerns in an open letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino ahead of a House of Commons debate on the legislation expected soon.

Noting that “All residents of Canada can agree on the need for cybersecurity,” the group warns that Bill C-26 in its current form “risks undermining our privacy rights, and the principles of accountable governance and judicial due process which are the fabric of Canadian democracy.”

Bill C-26 grants the government sweeping new powers not only over vast swathes of the Canadian economy, but also to intrude on the private lives of Canadians. The letter calls on Parliament to amend the legislation to ensure these powers are strictly delimited and accompanied by meaningful safeguards and reporting requirements to protect privacy, accountability, judicial transparency, and digital rights.

Concerns about the bill include:

  • Opens the door to new surveillance obligations: Bill C-26 empowers the government to secretly order telecom providers “to do anything or refrain from doing anything.” This opens the door to imposing surveillance obligations on private companies, and to other risks such as weakened encryption standards — something the public has long rejected as inconsistent with our privacy rights.
  • Allows termination of essential services: Under Bill C-26, Canadian companies or individuals risk being cut off from essential services by secret government order, without explanation. Bill C-26 fails to set out any explicit regime, such as an independent regulator for dealing with the collateral impacts of these orders.
  • Undermines privacy: Bill C-26 empowers the government to collect broad categories of information from designated operators, which may enable it to obtain identifiable personal information and subsequently distribute it to domestic, and perhaps foreign, organizations.
  • Lacks guardrails to constrain abuse: Bill C-26 lacks mandatory proportionality, privacy, or equity assessments, or other guardrails, to constrain abuse of the new powers it grants the government — powers accompanied by steep fines or even imprisonment for non-compliance.
  • Secrecy undermines accountability and due process: Bill C-26 enables the government to shroud its orders in secrecy, with no mandatory public reporting requirements. While there is a need for some degree of confidentiality in this sphere, the public must have a sense of how these powers are being exercised, how often, and to what effect, if decision-makers are to be held to account.
  • Permits unknowable orders to trump public regulation: Bill C-26 tilts the balance so far toward secrecy, its orders and regulations may take precedence over decisions previously issued by regulatory agencies — rendering the security-related rules currently in effect unknowable for members of the public.
  • Authorizes the use of secret evidence in Court: Even if Security Orders are subjected to judicial review, Bill C-26 could restrict applicants’ access to evidence. Bill C-26 also does not include any consideration of security-cleared advocates to be appointed on applicants’ behalf. While such provisions are an imperfect solution for due process, they do provide at least a minimal level of protection for applicants’ rights.
  • Grants power without accountability for the CSE: Bill C-26 would let the CSE — Canada’s signal intelligence and cybersecurity agency — obtain and analyze security-related data from federally-regulated companies that Canadians entrust with their most sensitive personal information. The CSE’s use of this information is not constrained to the cybersecurity aspect of its mandate, and any uses would be largely subject to after-the-fact review rather than real-time oversight, resulting in a significant deficit in democratic accountability.
  • Lacks Justification: Although the government claims that such sweeping and secretive new powers are required it has not published any sufficiently comprehensive data establishing the necessity and proportionality of the proposed powers.

Bill C-26 was first published in June, and is expected to be debated by the House of Commons in the coming weeks, before moving to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security for more detailed study.

QUOTES 

Dr. Brenda McPhail, Director of the Privacy, Technology & Surveillance Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association: “Privacy protections for people across Canada must be a core component of legislation seeking to enhance our security if it is to be fit for purpose. Bill C-26 must be amended to ensure that new surveillance obligations and expanded information sharing powers are appropriately constrained, subject to effective oversight, and respect privacy rights.” 

Dr. Christopher ParsonsSenior Research Associate at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto: “The Government of Canada has rightly recognised that it is imperative to secure federally regulated critical infrastructure. Legislation that fulfils this objective, however, must have the principles of proportionality, accountability, and due process embedded in its DNA. Bill C-26 does not contain these principles and, consequently, the legislation absolutely must be amended prior to its passage.” 

Tim McSorley, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group: “Time and again, we’ve seen federal governments try to grant themselves the power to intrude on our private lives in the name of ‘security’ — and time and again, people in Canada have come together to push back. Let’s fix Bill C-26 so that it delivers strong cybersecurity, while ensuring accountability and upholding our basic rights.” 

Matthew Hatfield, Campaigns Director at OpenMedia: “Canadians deserve to have their cybersecurity defended by our government, but also from our government. A full set of checks and balances must be introduced in Bill C-26 before it is passed to keep it from handing a blank cheque to government spy agencies that could justify considerable abuse of our rights and privacy.” 

ENDORSEMENTS 

The open letter to Minister Mendicino is endorsed by:

Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Constitution Foundation
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Leadnow
Ligue des droits et libertés
OpenMedia
Privacy & Access Council of Canada

**

Dr. Christopher Parsons, Senior Research Associate at the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto

Tamir Israel, Digital Rights Lawyer

Andrew Clement, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto

CONTACT: 

Bryan Short,
Digital Rights Campaigner,
OpenMedia
press@openmedia.org
1 (888) 441-2640 ext. 705

Fall 2022 is heating up! Help us protect civil liberties on Parliament Hill

Dear ICLMG members and supporters,

Parliament is back with a packed agenda and a new leader of the official opposition with a track record of supporting some of the most regressive anti-terrorism laws in Canadian history.

Our small team has been hard at work monitoring national security activities, defending civil liberties and preparing for parliament’s return, but we can’t do it without you.

There are some key bills and legislative proposals that we’ll be taking on this fall:

  • Protecting our Privacy at the Border (Bill S-7)
  • Independent Review for the CBSA (Bill C-20)
  • Protecting our Privacy in the Private Sector and Regulating Artificial Intelligence (Bill C-27)
  • Online Harms and the Fight Against Expanding “Anti-terrorism” Powers (upcoming legislation)

Our small team is working to defend civil liberties. Can you help us make it happen?

DONATE

WHY ARE THESE BILLS IMPORTANT?

Protecting our Privacy at the Border (S-7)
Earlier this year, we had an important victory when our advocacy efforts secured amendments to a new border search bill, known as S-7. These amendments will help protect the private information on our cell phones and laptops at the border. We successfully argued to the Senate to do away with a new, incredibly low threshold proposed by the government that would have allowed border agents to search electronic devices on a whim, in favour of a stronger, known standard.

This fall, S-7 will be coming to the House of Commons for debate and study by MPs, and the government could try to reverse the Senate improvements in favour of their original plan. We’re preparing to continue the fight to make sure the stronger standard sticks and that we don’t need to worry about excessive snooping when travelling to Canada.

Independent Review for the CBSA (C-20)
Before the summer break, the government introduced Bill C-20, which would reform the RCMP’s current review body and expand it to also include the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Independent review of the CBSA is desperately needed, and has been a priority in our coalition’s advocacy work. But this is the third CBSA review bill proposed by this government, with the other two never making it further than second reading. We need to make sure that independent review comes to the CBSA, and we need to make sure it’s done right. We’ve convened a network of groups to develop proposals for strengthening the bill, and will be bringing our concerns to MPs and the government this fall.

Help us in the fight to protect privacy, civil liberties and human rights.

DONATE

Protecting our Privacy in the Private Sector and Regulating Artificial Intelligence (C-27)
In the coming weeks, Bill C-27 will also be back before MPs. This massive piece of legislation will update Canada’s laws regulating how the private sector handles our personal information. Unfortunately, it keeps in place broad loopholes that allow companies to collect, use and disclose our personal information on vague “national security” grounds. It also proposes sorely needed rules for regulating the use of Artificial Intelligence in the private sector. Surprise, though: it exempts all AI tools under the “direction or control” of Canada’s national security and defense agencies from these new rules. This is unacceptable, and we plan to be at the forefront of closing these loopholes and putting privacy and rights protections first.

Online Harms and the Fight Against Expanding “Anti-terrorism” Powers
While not yet a bill, the government is gearing up for legislation to regulate content online to prevent the spread of material that incites hatred or violence and that causes harm. We believe in greater accountability for social media platforms on how they operate and profit from material that promotes racism, violence, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. Unfortunately, the government’s original proposal would have introduced new, broader definitions of “terrorist content;” deputized social media platforms to surveill all content uploaded to their sites and require them to report back to law enforcement and intelligence agencies; and granted broad new warrant powers to CSIS. We helped to force them back to the drawing board, but with new legislation likely coming in the next few months, we need to keep up the pressure.

We’ve had successes, but there’s much more to do!

DONATE

We’re also hard at work on many other issues we’ll update you about in the coming weeks, from the urgent need to repatriate Canadians in indefinite detention in life-threatening camps in North Eastern Syria, to the fight against security certificates and justice for Mohamed Harkat, to CSIS’ involvement in unlawful activities and misleading the courts, and the ongoing problem of the No Fly List and the CRA’s prejudiced audits of Muslim charities. Plus, we’ll have news about celebrating ICLMG’s 20th anniversary. Stay tuned!

Thank you in advance for your essential support in protecting and promoting civil liberties!

In solidarity,

Tim & Xan

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