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New spy powers will undermine privacy of Canadians

New spy powers will undermine privacy of Canadians, and fails to address inadequate control and accountability of spy agencies

New measures to undermine privacy proposed just days after the government’s spy agency CSE revealed to be spying on private online activities of law-abiding Canadians on a massive scale

January 30, 2015 – The federal government’s just announced Bill C-51 will further undermine Canadians’ privacy while doing nothing to address privacy violations revealed just days ago. That’s according to digital rights group, which is leading a nationwide coalition calling for stronger privacy protections. Over 46,000 people have spoken out recently through OpenMedia privacy campaigns calling on Prime Minister Harper to end mass surveillance and improve spy agency accountability and transparency.

Bill C-51 will give spy agencies new powers to access Canadians’ private information, including passport application information and sensitive commercial data. The legislation will also override privacy protections in multiple pieces of legislation to increase information sharing between government agencies, which has prompted the federal Privacy Commissioner to speak out. It also greatly expands the domestic powers of CSIS, including the power to place Canadians on a no fly list.

“Experts and even Stephen Harper himself agree that targeted intelligence is more effective than dragnet surveillance of entire populations”, said David Christopher,’s communications manager. “Yet this plan appears to further encourage reckless sharing of our sensitive private information rather than providing a clear path for effective targeted action.”

Christopher continued: “The government has failed to show a demonstrable need for drastic expansion of spy agency powers. Instead we see further measures that will place Canadians’ private lives under the microscope of secretive and unaccountable government agencies like CSIS and CSE. And yet the government is doing nothing to improve the accountability and transparency of these powerful spy agencies.”

Christopher says the legislation raises a number of important questions:

On Free Expression: The bill criminalizes advocating or promoting terrorism online - who defines the terms that get censored, blocked, or put Canadians on a watch list?
On Privacy: Who will be targeted by the extensive new information sharing provisions in the Bill? Will it, as feared by the Privacy Commissioner, involve exposing the personal information of innocent Canadians who are not suspected of anything?
On the Border: Will information about Canadians crossing the border also be shared by CBSA with CSIS?
On the No Fly list: What are the criteria for being placed on the no fly list? Given the devastating personal and professional impacts of being placed on the list, how will individuals be able to appeal such a designation? How will Canada safeguard against the many serious problems experienced by the U.S. with their no-fly list?

The bill is published just two days after shocking new revelations exposed a government spy program called LEVITATION that monitors tens of millions of private downloads a day, with Canadians among the targets. They also collected millions of IP addresses of individual users, with a number of Canadian Internet addresses among the targets. Experts have warned that this type of mass surveillance is actually counter-productive, and can drown intelligence agencies in reams of useless data.

Experts, MPs, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, and even a former CSE director, have repeatedly pointed to Canada’s lack of independent oversight for its spy agencies. Last October the government voted down proposals from Liberal MP Joyce Murray to beef up oversight and accountability mechanisms, and there is nothing in today’s legislation to tackle the problem.

In just the past 24 hours, thousands of Canadians have called on Stephen Harper to end mass surveillance and improve oversight and accountability of spy agencies at


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