Canada’s Public Consultation on National Security: The notion that we are being watched digitally has, seemingly overnight, become something many people now accept as a fact of life in the modern, post-Snowden world. Much of the news around citizen privacy, as always, has been focused on the US, but are we on the sidelines?
Canada is an active participant in the five-eyes program, has rolled out the now politically toxic Bill C-51, and as members of NATO, NORAD, and enough acronyms to fill an alphabet soup, we are very much an active player. Not to mention how connected we are on a personal level to the greater world. I may be Canadian, but I hold no illusions about my data – I exist online, along with my purchasing and travel behavior, web searches, e-mail and social media conversations, what TV shows I watch, and very often my location, on countless servers around the world – and the same goes for you. The more interesting question, now that extra-legal surveillance has become the de facto standard, is how have governments reacted and where, policy wise, do we go from here?
Drawn to the dark side
Both the US and UK have decided to go one way, attempting to drag extra-legal surveillance into the realm of legitimacy. In the US, choosing to have Edward Snowden continue to be a persona non grata, the FBI attempting to use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to write software that would break security features, the accepted use of Stingray devices on a local level, and the list goes on. The UK as well has been mulling over legislation of the draft Investigatory Powers bill that would compel internet service providers, telecom companies, and other services you rely on to turn in information about your habits without a warrant. Canada, in its own right, has made some concerning moves to the dark side. C-51, for instance, was a worrying enough debacle that the Liberals needed to reaffirm that yes, they do, in fact, still believe in The Charter. More recently this summer, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police began vocally calling for the power to get people’s phone passwords through the course of an investigation.
Opportunity for a reset
But it appears as if we’ve been afforded the opportunity for a reset. The Canadian government has opened up several public comment periods this year surrounding national security, and specifically how it will adapt to investigations in the digital age. This is an encouraging step to allow citizens’ concerns to be heard and offers the opportunity to make improvements to Canada’s national security laws and regulations, namely C-51. And while it takes two to tango, and some citizens are hesitant about the effectiveness of such consultations and the government’s reply, it is the responsibility of our democracy to respond and adjust, in an accommodating way to the public, as that is their hallmark.
The voice of resistance
Thankfully, the voice of resistance and, in this case, reason, continues to get louder and more forceful around the globe when it comes to issues of privacy versus security. Apple was willing to stare down the government rather than publicly compromise the security of their users. Alex Stamos, former CISO of Yahoo, resigned when he learned of a secret program whereby the government could search the e-mail of all Yahoo email users, in real time, without a warrant required. With the public consultation, we too have the opportunity to voice our objection to these larger trends towards the invasion of citizens’ lives and lowering the barriers to violating privacy.
So I, along with hundreds of others in the Canadian security industry, took part in the public comment period the government had devoted to national security. Hopefully you did the same. This was an opportunity to defend our fundamental rights and reset our legislation on citizen privacy.
Now, we sit back and wait to see how, in the face of an incredible amount of technological power, this government decides to treat its citizens – as an information mine to be exploited, or as the country’s most precious resource to be protected. We will be watching.