At least you can give the federal Conservatives points for persistence — because here we go again. Remember the outrage over Conservative legislation allowing warrantless searches of Internet and cellphone records by police? (If you need your memory jogged, that was the one where a federal minister, Vic Toews, suggested that if you didn’t back the full-scale intrusion by police into your online records, you were “on the side of the child pornographers.”)
This time, as part of Bill C-13 — a bill that’s supposed to deal with cyberbullying and pornographic images of children — a whole range of peace officers are being given the tools to “voluntarily request” information from telecommunications companies and, in the process, those same telecommunications companies will be granted legal immunity for their role in releasing private information.
It’s in this section of the act: “487.014 (1) For greater certainty, no production order is necessary for a peace officer or public officer enforcing or administering this or any other Act of Parliament to ask a person to voluntarily provide to the officer documents, data or information that the person is not prohibited by law from disclosing. (2) A person who provides documents, data or information in the circumstances referred to in subsection (1) is deemed to be authorized to do so for the purposes of section 25.”
A fundamental change in the law is that, before C-13, police officers had to prove they were actually conducting an investigation before demanding the information. Now, they merely have to claim the search will assist in “administering of any law of Canada.”
Peace officers and public officers, by the way, include far more than just police officers: a mayor is a peace officer, as are sheriffs, justices of the peace and a whole host of others.
There have already been warnings about C-13 from privacy advocates. As far back as last November, the federal privacy commissioner at the time, Jennifer Stoddart (one of the three people on a panel now reviewing this province’s access to information legislation) raised concerns about “the potentially large number of ‘public officers’ who would be able to use these significant new powers.”
Keep in mind that under existing legislation, during 2011, government officials asked telecommunications companies for information more than 1.2 million times, and that in at least 786,000 cases, the companies released the data, warrant or no warrant. And that’s an incomplete number, since only some of the telecommunication companies agreed to hand over statistics. Stop and think about how many requests there are bound to be when, to be blunt, there are no bounds on the information that can be requested.
Could a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend, who happened to be a peace officer, sample your phone records? They could ask — and your cellphone company would be granted immunity for dishing up the information.
Fact is, even in the post-Edward Snowden era, our federal government is keen on allowing more warrantless digital sampling, not less. Hiding the changes in a bill that’s supposed to stop cyberbullying is just another example of how willing this federal government is to use any means to gain the ends it wants.
If at first you don’t succeed, hide, hide again.
The only thing worse that refusing to accept the will of Canadians is insulting our intelligence by assuming that you can simply dish up the same meal again by changing the words on the menu and the number on the bill.
(This editorial was edited to correct an error in Edward Snowden's name.)