Canada's Present Threat to Privacy
For the most part, Canada has been fortunate enough to not fall victim to large-scale extremist activities. While certain agencies can take credit for keeping civilians safe from extremists, many Canadians are concerned that the extensive monitoring encroaches their right to privacy.
On January 30, in Richmond Hill, Ont. the Prime Minister announced the government’s plan to “intervene to disrupt terror plots while they are in the planning stages.”
To counter this developing concern the Harper government is fast-tracking the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (Bill C-51), which will allow information regarding possible threats to public safety to be passed through many levels of the Canadian government. This information may be used to convince a judge to permit necessary action against these threats.
According to the Parliament of Canada website the Anti-terrorism Act, in part “enacts the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which authorizes Government of Canada institutions to disclose information to Government of Canada institutions that have jurisdiction or responsibilities in respect of activities that undermine the security of Canada.”
According to the website, Bill C-51 also covers “the Secure Air Travel Act in order to provide a new legislative framework for identifying and responding to persons who may engage in an act that poses a threat to transportation security or who may travel by air for the purpose of committing a terrorism offence.”
John Mark Daniele of Klynveld, Peat, Marwick, Goerdeler’s (KPMG), a Canadian Risk Consulting practice, is Director of Cyber Investigations and says he believes the bill’s intentions are ethical and the actions taken to combat potential threats may be as indirect as providing misinformation online.
“There are legitimate reasons why we would want to interrupt terrorist related activity,” the cyber-security expert says.
However, he does have concerns about the role that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will play.
Daniele says Bill-C51 proposes changes to CSIS’s core mandate.
“It’s getting involved in disruption activities sometimes crosses the line of policing activity and there is a legitimate concern that CSIS is involved in police related activity at all,” says Daniele.
The core mandate for CSIS, he says, is “to serve, report, but not necessarily to act on anything. Bill-C51 intrinsically changes that mandate. It is no longer an organization that just observes, collects information and reports information.”
Proposed changes could see the intelligence service take on a more active role. He says disruptive operations can mean a lot of things such as spreading disinformation, trying to plant operatives within an organization.
All of which he says fall well outside of the CSIS mandate.
According to the Public Safety Canada website “with its new mandate, CSIS could take measures, at home and abroad, to disrupt threats when it had reasonable grounds to believe that there was a threat to the security of Canada. Threats to the security of Canada are defined in the CSIS Act, and include espionage, sabotage, foreign influenced activities, terrorism and domestic subversion (activities against the constitutionally established system of government in Canada).”
A statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said that the dangers present in the world were “brutally demonstrated by last October’s attacks in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism. The proposed legislation will provide Canadian law enforcement and national security agencies with additional tools and flexibility to keep pace with evolving threats and better protect Canadians here at home.”
"We've never had privacy on the Internet."
-Nickolas Richard , Wright Digital senior hardware technician
But the proposed bill certainly has its critics.
One concern is that the bill proposes to give more protection to the public while taking more action against criminal threats and widening the list of actions or events that may be considered a threat to Canada.
While the most recent attacks on Canadian soil by Martin Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau may have motivated a bigger discussion about terrorism in Canada, those events don’t explain the Canadian government’s reasons for tracking their civilian’s online and mobile activities.
Last year, U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) have been tracking Canadian travellers by collecting information through the airport’s Wi-Fi.
In fact, according to The Star’s Michelle Shephard, CSEC began tracking Internet and phone data after the organization was authorized in 2005.
Though the Harper government’s bill has caused concern among Canadians that federal agencies may intrude on its citizen’s privacy, many think that the concept of privacy is an illusion.
Surfing the Internet creates virtual fingerprints, according to Wright Digital senior hardware technician Nickolas Richard. Richard says, “We’ve never had privacy on the Internet.”
He says that putting personal information onto the Internet always places citizens’ privacy at risk.
To keep personal information secure, Richard and Daniele both advise that the computer system being up to date, patched and fitted with an anti-virus are the most basic steps to privacy protection. However, the online hacking industry has become such a lucrative criminal business, even these measures have back doors that professional hackers can bypass.
“Unfortunately, things are changing,” says Daniele. “The dollar figure attached to cyber crime is ever-increasing.”
Cyber crime, he says, has nearly a billion dollar price tag attached to it and over the last year so governments are concerned with organized crime representing a significant power and influence in society.
Daniele encourages Canadians to not assume that the security risk can be stemmed through personal computer software programs.
The last year has shown vulnerabilities in social media, on our smart phones and even on our smart TV’s that have the ability to record and send our conversations to be collected.
In a time when Canadians are constantly connected can they ever feel that their digital information safe? Daniele advises otherwise.
“A better policy is to consider that your information can be viewed, spied on, compromised in some way, shape or form,” and he advises “constantly mitigating the threats you’re exposing yourself to when you participate online.”