Friday, March 30, 2007

Big Brother Bill

It seems the Conservatives are in agreement with the Liberals for once, but unfortunately, it's not on the environment, or day care, but a bill that will introduce sweeping new surveillance powers to law enforcement agencies. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government should adopt Bill C-416, in order to make good on its law and order agenda. Liberal MP Marlene Jennings introduced the private member's bill on intercepting new communications technology to crack down on crime and it has already passed 1st reading.

According to Jennings, Bill C-416, the Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act, would reduce the ability of criminals, members of organized crime and child pornographers to use new technologies to carry out illegal activities. What MP wouldn't want to get behind this bill, especially with an election looming? How could anyone be opposed to something that is purported to stop organized crime and child pornography?

Given that the two main parties are in agreement on this one, we'll have to hope the NDP will speak up on the enormous privacy issues and vast new police powers this bill will introduce, including:
-interception of all forms of electronic communications, including search and seizure powers
-mandatory data retention for all ISPs, including subscriber information, audit trails and message content
-a reduced standard of "suspicion" to enable interception (as opposed to the higher standard of "reason to believe" in place now)

Law enforcement agencies argue that these are not sweeping powers, but a modernization of powers. Given that the current surveillance legislation was written for telephone surveillance, it is true that law enforcement needs to improved its ability to gather evidence in the case of major crimes. However, the balance of power needs to be addressed to ensure that the principle of privacy is preserved.

We need to ensure that this legislation includes safeguards that will limit the amount and type of data to be maintained, and for how long. We need to preserve the higher standard of "reason to believe" before such powers can be invoked. And we need to ensure a high standard of accountability and oversight for law enforcement agencies.