Conservative snooping law needs to learn from British tabloid scandal

It is hard to know when the rights of an individual are important to the Conservative government.  If you will recall, the official reason they abandoned the long-form census was that it was too intrusive into the lives of Canadians.   The policy was apparently based on one complaint they received to that end. 

In stark contrast to that, the Conservatives are hoping to pass legislation that will allow police to track every e-mail sent, every website visited and all online participation such as leaving comments on a Facebook page.  More so, this will be able to be done without warrants or judicial review. 

 So what are we to think?  Does this government have a libertarian streak, as the census decision would indicate, or an authoritarian streak as the proposed internet surveillance measures that they hope to pass in the autumn indicate?

Sadly, we are forced to assume it is the latter.  It is not just internet snooping that shows this to be true, there are other examples such as the government’s reluctance to protect Canadian’s privacy when amending the Aeronautics Act in the last parliament – not to mention the outright  dismissal of concerns raised by opposition parliamentarians during that debate.  

With the proposed measures the government want to pass into law as part of their legislative package for the first 100 days of parliament, Canadians will be more exposed to surveillance than ever before.  We do all manner of business and divulge a great deal of personal information on cell phones and online, these new provisions will ultimately force local phone and internet providers to spy on Canadians.

The government has indicated that lawful access provisions will be included in their omnibus crime legislation this fall.  Despite this, experts are warning the measures will legalize widespread snooping on average citizens – all without a warrant. Telecom providers would also be forced to install surveillance software giving police the ability to track internet and mobile phone activity.

It is not insignificant that this is happening at the same time as Rupert Murdoch has chosen to stop publishing his tabloid The News of the World because of journalists hacking into private citizen’s voicemail messages.  Every day there are more and more allegations, charges and revelations that may connect the scandal all the way to the Office of current British Prime Minister, David Cameron.  At the heart of these allegations are ties between journalists and police.  One would hope such behaviour is not occurring in Canada; but hope is not enough and we should certainly be safeguarding against it.

Yet, we are doing anything but protecting the digital privacy of our citizens.  New Democrats understand the need to modernize policing powers so they can deal with digital issues, but removing the requirement for warrants altogether opens the door to all manner of abuse by security officials.   We certainly like to think the best of our police, but to think there should be no mechanisms – such as warrants – to protect an individual’s privacy rights is beyond wishful thinking.  It is better to safeguard against abuse ahead of time rather than dealing with the aftermath of a scandal like we see in Britain.  As for the census, it is anybody’s guess what reliable information the government was not interested in receiving.