That, in the opinion of the House, the government should follow the advice of the Privacy Commissioner and make public the number of warrantless disclosures made by telecommunications companies at the request of federal departments and agencies; and immediately close the loophole that has allowed the indiscriminate disclosure of the personal information of law-abiding Canadians without a warrant.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by stating that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Timmins—James Bay.
I am very pleased today to move this motion to ensure that justice is served for Canadians. However, I am very disappointed to have to rise once again to protest this government's extremely reprehensible actions.
I would have thought that, after three years, it would have finally understood. However, once again, the government has been caught spying on its own people.
With such ridiculous statements as, for example, if we did not support bill C-30 we were siding with pedophiles, the government has constantly tried to minimize the impact of its proposed measures on the lives of Canadians, all the while boasting and insinuating that it is proposing reasonable and necessary measures, which has been proven to be false by many impartial stakeholders.
The Conservative government called our assessment “speculation and unwarranted fearmongering” or a series of outlandish conspiracies made up by the NDP. After being harshly criticized by the public, media, and civil liberty and rights groups, as well as by privacy experts, the government finally listened and withdrew these bills or let them die on the order paper.
However, we still need to point out that exploiting the personal information on Canadians without reasonable cause and without a warrant is a huge violation of their privacy. I do not think I have heard about 1.2 million criminals being convicted of accessing personal information in 2011.
Last week, new revelations showed that government agencies and departments allegedly asked telecommunications companies to share personal information with them without a warrant. Not once, not a hundred times or a thousand times. They asked 1.2 million times.
We condemn this highly questionable tactic, since there is no legislative oversight to determine whether the government's reasons for accessing this information were valid.
Like many Canadians, I understand and support the need for security authorities to have the tools they need to fight crime in our country and to make us feel safe at home.
However, how can the government justify 1.2 million requests in a single year to achieve that goal? That happened in 2011, and the government was not required to explain what this information was necessary or how and for what it would be used.
When I think of the majority of Canadians who abide by the law and who could be affected by these requests, I find it unacceptable, disgusting and incomprehensible that the government is treating them like criminals.
The privacy of Canadians has been taken lightly by past Liberal and Conservative governments for far too long, and Canadians affected by the thousands of data breaches in government agencies are paying the price. To hear that the government is snooping on them as though they were common criminals when they have done nothing wrong is another blow on top of it all. Last week the government tried to make us believe these requests were made for public safety reasons, but let us look at the case of the CBSA.
In response to my order paper question, after reviewing the number of requests made from the CBSA in one year, we find that no requests were made in exigent circumstances. The 18,849 others were made in non-exigent circumstances. From these requests, only two were made for national security reasons, none for terrorism alerts, none for foreign intelligence, and none on the grounds of child exploitation, so it is hard to believe the government when it says that these millions of requests were made for national security reasons when the numbers speak a very different truth.
Canadians understand that law enforcement institutions need information to identify, catch and judge criminals. However, when the government makes 1.2 million requests for Canadians' private information from telecommunications companies per year, that is not just about cracking down own crime; that is spying.
The vast majority of Canadians are law-abiding. There is no reason for the government to engage in such broad spying activities. If the Canadian government decides to spy on its own citizens, it should do so only if it has reason to suspect them and only with a warrant.
If the law permits this kind of warrantless spying, the law must be changed immediately, and that is what the NDP is trying to do today. If the government needs a warrant to listen to Canadians' phone conversations, the same should apply to their online activities.
We understand that certain extremely urgent circumstances do not permit the obtaining of a warrant. However, the information we received from the Privacy Commissioner last week goes far beyond the imaginable: 1.2 million requests for subscriber data without a warrant is unacceptable and unjustifiable.
In Canada, we are very lucky to have a legal framework for obtaining a warrant. That framework protects Canadians and prevents abuses by the authorities. Unfortunately, there is a loophole in the system the Liberals introduced.
Today, the Conservatives are taking advantage of that loophole to spy on their own citizens. Clearly, the government is no longer in control of the warrantless disclosure procedures.
As I said earlier, the Conservatives' spying cannot be justified on national security grounds. Moreover, it is done in secret. The Privacy Commissioner is not even informed.
If the government had a real, viable motive for snooping on Canadians, it would have no problem whatsoever with warning Canadians when they were being snooped on, it would have no issue working with the OPC, and it would strengthen our laws to better protect Canadians against these types of abuses.
We do not know why, how often or how long the government has been spying. What is even more incredible is that the Conservatives have long been trying to expand the legal framework around requesting information without a warrant. If the government decides to spy on Canadians, there should be just cause, it should be overseen by the courts and it should happen only under exceptional circumstances.
What is even more ridiculous than the government's unwillingness to protect Canadians' privacy is its complete lack of understanding about the scope of the problem. Just last week, the Privy Council Office asked that all departments provide details about the number of personal information requests submitted to various telecommunications companies over the past three years.
That proves that the government has abused the loophole in the law to the point where it has lost control of its departments on this issue.
The Conservatives have proven that they are unable to protect the privacy of Canadians. The Privacy Act dates back to 1983, before the arrival of the Internet, and PIPEDA has not been updated since 2000, before the age of social media.
Instead of strengthening the laws and increasing government accountability, the Conservatives are moving in the other direction. Instead of protecting Canadians' privacy, Bills C-13 and S-4 will increase the likelihood that the government will spy on its own citizens. From an ethical standpoint, that is extremely problematic.
With Bill C-13 alone, the government would expand the number of people who can make requests for subscriber data so that even people like Rob Ford could access our personal information. It would create legal immunity for voluntary disclosure of personal information and it would expand the circumstances under which personal information could be disclosed.
As if that were not enough, the government is using taxpayers' money to spy on them. Government agencies pay telecommunications companies between $1 and $3 for each information request. That means that, at the very least, Canadian taxpayers have paid between $1.2 million and $3.6 million to be spied on. I say that is the minimum because only some of the telecommunications companies have disclosed how often they provide information to the government.
If all of those information requests were justified, and if the telecommunications companies were not worried about disclosing their practices, I would likely not be making this speech today. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are trying so hard to hide their spying that it is worrisome.
What are they using all that personal information for? Can they even justify the importance of the information? It is clear that the government believes that Canadians are criminals because it spies on them without their knowledge, as though it suspected them of something. This motion defends the privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians, and it is meant to counter the government's nefarious attempts to get information by the back door.
Since becoming the critic for digital issues, I have risen dozens of times to draw attention to and criticize the alarming state of our privacy laws. Laws that are meant to properly protect us in the digital age should have been revised years ago and are now unsuitable for protecting the public and our children.
In my time as opposition critic for digital issues, I have seen not one but four different pieces of legislation introduced in the House that would facilitate government snooping instead of fixing the problem.
Canadians are worried. They are right to be. The Internet that they have known as an open and free space for social and political discussions is threatened by the snooping of their very own government. Law-abiding citizens should be able to benefit from the Internet without the threat of being treated like common criminals.
I ask all my colleagues to vote in favour of our motion in order to restore Canadians' trust in matters concerning the protection of their privacy and of the Internet as the social and political tool it should be.