Canada debates controversial bill on Internet surveillance

Canada is currently debating the adoption of a new Internet surveillance bill. As stated on the website of Canadian Public Safety, the new bill would oblige telecommunications service providers to “implement and maintain systems capable of lawfully intercepting communications in order to support the police and [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] CSIS when needed” and to give access to police, CSIS and Competition Bureau officials to Internet users information without warrant in certain cases.

The C-30 was introduced in February 2012 by the Canadian Government as An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts. A principal driver behind the bill is preparing Canada to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime, adopted in Budapest the 23 November 2001. Indeed, this convention entered into force July 1st, 2004; Canada has signed but not ratified this Convention; consequently, this Convention has not entered into force for Canada. The bill is controversial in Canada because it would allow authorities to access Internet users’ information without warrant under exceptional circumstances (Section 17), notably if “the information requested is immediately necessary to prevent an unlawful act that would cause serious harm to any person or to property”. On November 27, 2012, the  National Post revealed that the Canadian Government is under international pressure to pass this bill in order to be able to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime.

This controversy has been widely debated among concerned Canadians. Indeed, Canada’s Information and Privacy Commissioners have expressed their concerns about the bill, including Ann Cavoukian, the Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner in the National Post. In short, they are asking for an amendment of the bill in order to balance security and privacy. At the same time however members of law enforcement authorities  have supported the bill based on their belief it is in the interest of public safety. Jim Chu Chief Constable at the Vancouver Police Department has written of his support in the Vancouver Sun, as have the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.