Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to say that I have the pleasure of sharing my time with the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.
One day—yes, I said one day—is not really enough time to debate such an important issue. That is why I feel it is so important that the government listen to as many viewpoints as possible, from as many regions of the country as possible, so that it can hear and understand that beyond those telecommunications companies, there are real individuals. Those individuals did not necessarily give permission for their personal information to be shared.
I do not know if it was because the news about the amount of data that had been passed on came as a bombshell, but when I was preparing my speech, I was transported back in time, almost to the days of my youth. Like many MPs in the House, I presume, I had the sublime pleasure of reading George Orwell's 1984, which won an award as one of the best science fiction novels. At the time Orwell was, in a way, telling us about what we are discussing here today.
Since I read the book rather than seeing the movie, I had to imagine the setting myself. I never imagined a setting that looked like Quebec or Canada. I imagined a futuristic world that did not really exist. However, that is exactly what we are seeing with the topic we are discussing today. The fact that, right now, the government does not really know how big a problem this is, what data are being disclosed and the reasons why that is happening makes us think that Big Brother must have lost control somewhere along the way. In the book, things seemed to be a lot more under control. Things were not necessarily being done more intelligently, but they were a lot more under control.
We have often heard the government say how important it is to respect private companies and that the federal government has no business getting involved in companies' internal affairs. That position could make sense ideologically if it was consistently applied, but it seems that what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
We have now learned that the Conservative government no longer follows that rule. Not only does it frequently intervene in collective bargaining processes, for example, but it also solicits the support of telecommunications companies in obtaining Canadians' personal information. The Conservatives have been saying that the companies are not required to respond and that if they refuse to provide the information requested, then the government has to get a warrant.
That is all well and good, but I should have a say when it comes to my own personal information. The same is true for all Canadians. The telecommunications company should not be deciding willy-nilly, depending on its mood or which way the wind is blowing, whether it will agree to share my personal information with or without a warrant on the pretext that I have a service contract with that company.
Telecommunications companies have said that they disclosed personal information to the federal government 1.2 million times in 2011 alone. Based on the exponential growth of our means of communication and the huge increase in sales of telecommunication tools, one can only imagine that the 1.2 million instances of disclosure in 2011 have now reached an unimaginable number. However, one thing is for certain: that number is definitely higher than the bar set in 2011.
It is not the government's role to interfere in people's private lives. What is more, this practice has become so routine that one has to wonder whether it is not simply a nation-wide spying system set up for all sorts of reasons. As the employment insurance critic, I also have to wonder about this when I see the type of investigations being conducted by many EI investigators.
This information reveals the government's appalling approach to forcing telecommunications companies to disclose information, often without a warrant, as was mentioned earlier. For a government that claims to respect law and order, this is deeply hypocritical.
What is really happening? On April 29, 2014, the Interim Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Chantal Bernier, revealed that telecommunications companies had disclosed vast amounts of information to government organizations, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency, as well as to certain provincial and municipal authorities that are unknown and cannot be named. The list would be even longer if we could get the information we do not have.
Information provided to the commissioner's office in late 2011 shows that wireless telecommunications companies responded to 784,756 government requests for information about customers. Surely that all happened very respectfully; surely companies had the right to say no. All the same, the government made 784,756 requests for information about Canadian cell phone customers. Nowadays, there are very few Canadians who do not have a cell phone.
Most of the requests were made without a warrant or judicial oversight. Telecommunications companies have refused to reveal how, why and how often they provided information to government organizations because they say that the government provided no guidelines or specifics about the rules. Somebody must have those answers.
I thought that this debate would help clarify some of these questions. Today, we heard in the news that the Prime Minister's Office was investigating to assess the scope of the problem. This is a huge mess. It is as though chaos has taken over in the departments and everyone is doing what they want, and as though the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, which means that no one—or virtually no one—is held accountable.
The very first question we have is, why did the government make all of these requests? I do not understand why the government needs so much information. What can it do with all that information? I can obviously understand why certain government agencies or the police would need that information. We heard about that earlier. There are some excellent examples of situations on which everyone quickly agrees, and where information is needed to track criminals. However, it makes absolutely no sense that the government is requiring telecommunications companies to provide personal information on Canadians 1.2 million times a year, possibly without a warrant—and, as I mentioned earlier, probably even more times in 2014 than in 2011.
I want to compare this to the stigma associated with EI recipients, who are treated like fraudsters before their file is even opened. I get the impression that this way of looking at Canadians is becoming more common. The government starts by assuming that people have something to hide. It asks for information and then decide. That is not how it works in a lawful society.
Is the law so permissive that the government has the right to monitor Canadians and to invade their privacy so easily? I would like to learn more about this. Unfortunately, the government has not provided any clarifications today. If it wants to track Canadians, it needs to have a good reason. If it has one, then it should go about things the right way and enact legislation. If that is not the case, we will have to find better ways to protect Canadians' privacy and personal information from the government's prying eyes. Without specific legislation, anything goes. I do not think that is how the rule of law works, nor do I think it is how a democratic government should operate.
What this motion is calling for today is quite simple and totally reasonable. We are calling on the government to listen to the Privacy Commissioner. Already we have a problem, because this government is not in the habit of listening to commissioners, but that is what we are asking for nonetheless. Commissioners are impartial officers of Parliament who provide a neutral perspective on situations and deserve to be heard, not to mention listened to. We are therefore calling on the government to listen to the commissioner and make public the number of disclosures made by telecommunications companies at the request of federal departments. We are calling on the government to tighten the rules governing the disclosure of personal information without judicial oversight and to update the privacy protection laws.
The NDP believes that we can effectively prosecute criminals and give them the harshest sentences under the law without treating Canadians disrespectfully, as though they were criminals, and without infringing on their rights.