Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand in the House this afternoon in support of the motion by my colleague, the MP for Terrebonne—Blainville, on this great opposition day.
It is a day in the House to be talking about privacy issues. This morning I had the privilege of speaking in support of Bill C-567, an act to amend the Access to Information Act (transparency and duty to document), put forward by my colleague from Winnipeg Centre.
This morning's bill and this afternoon's motion complement each other very well. Together they demonstrate to Canadians our NDP desire that it be the citizens of this country, not the government of this country, who are able to conduct their lives with a reasonable expectation of privacy and that it be the government of this country, not its citizens, that has the obligation to operate in a manner that is transparent, open, and accountable.
If there is a simple conclusion to draw from the sum of the whole day, it is that the current Conservative government has it backwards, upside down, and twisted all around. The Conservatives stand in support of government privacy, of, in fact, the necessity to operate free from the scrutiny of the citizenry of Canada and those they elect to hold the government accountable.
How, the Conservatives ask in response to Bill C-567, can they operate at once openly and honestly? If they are to tell the truth, it must be behind the curtain, they argue, in the dark, out of earshot, and away from the gaze of the public and opposition members of this place. On the other hand, they demonstrate no mere disregard of the privacy rights of Canadian citizens. They demonstrate an appetite, a voracious, seemingly insatiable appetite, for the private information of Canadians.
Much is made of the fact that we live in new and different times, with new forms of information and new means of accessing that information. There is truth, of course, to this, undeniably. I think all of us are alive to the ease with which information we consider private is accessible to those who want to put some effort, and not much is required, into accessing it. Our expectation of privacy is diminished as a result, simply because we know the ease with which we are vulnerable. Therefore, we see the narrative here being one of the need to modernize our laws to take these new circumstances into account. That does not account for the conduct of the current government.
The problem before us is not simply one of a government that has not come up to speed, that has failed to respond in a timely way to these new circumstances, and that has left exposed loopholes in the formulation of the laws of this country. That would paint a picture of an incompetent or slow, but certainly benign, government. No, the current Conservative government is anything but benign.
Confronted with a loophole for accessing the private information of Canadians, a benign government may simply fail to close that loophole. The current government lets through that loophole, fully, completely, and head first, with great enthusiasm and an obvious lust for what it might find on the other side. What we have before us is evidence of this lust.
Very recently, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Chantal Bernier, revealed that Canadian telecom companies disclosed massive volumes of information to government agencies, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Canada Border Services Agency, and provincial and municipal authorities.
Telecom companies disclosed personal data to the Canadian government 1.2 million times in a single year. We can of course concede that a balance is to be found between privacy rights, public security, and other concerns, including immediate danger to life. However, this can be nothing other than an indiscriminate fishing expedition of monumental proportions that the Privacy Commissioner has revealed to us.
These volumes equate to information requests with respect to one in every 34 or so Canadians. The vast majority of these requests are made without warrants. These volumes equate to a request for personal data, by the federal government to a telecom company, once every 27 seconds.
So great is the volume of information requests that one telecom company has advised that it has installed what it calls “a mirror” on its network so that it can send raw data traffic directly to federal authorities. Michael Geist, a digital law professor at the University of Ottawa, says this of what is happening:
This is happening on a massive scale and rather than the government taking a step back and asking is this appropriate...we instead have a government going in exactly the opposite direction—in a sense doubling down on these disclosures
It is easy to find further evidence of this doubling down, of this appetite for private information. One cannot help but note that Bill C-13, which is purportedly about cyberbullying, is more about lowering the bar on government access to information. The “reason to believe” standard is being replaced with a “reason to suspect” standard, opening up much greater warrantless access to electronic information. Moreover, Bill C-13 would allow a broader and lower range of government officials to have access to the private information of Canadians.
Bill S-4 will also be coming before this House, we suspect. That bill would permit non-governmental organizations and corporations to have access to information from telecom companies. FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, buried deep in the budget bill, would expose the financial information of about one million Canadians to the U.S. government, and so on.
In light of all of this, one could argue that there is a kind of naiveté to the motion I speak in support of today. Certainly the first part of the motion is easy enough. It is, in fact, all the Privacy Commissioner has requested. She has said:
I'm not disputing that there are times when there is no time to get a warrant—life is in danger....
What we would like is for those warrantless disclosures to simply be represented in statistics so that Canadians have an idea of the scope of the phenomenon.
...It would give a form of oversight by empowering citizens to see what the scope of the phenomenon is.
It is a modest enough proposal: at least let me see what it is the federal government is doing here.
However, we are also asking the government to close the loophole that has allowed the indiscriminate disclosure of the personal information of law-abiding Canadians without warrants. In so doing, we must recognize that we are asking the predator to restrain itself, to bind itself, to limit its own appetite for our private information, to guard itself. It has no such impulse, no such sense of constraint, as is obvious from the 1.2 million requests, by Bill C-13, by Bill S-4, and by FATCA.
Here is the very saddest part of this. As we engage with each other through the technologies of this modern world, we do so with some trepidation about how exposed we are to the prying eyes and interests of others, and part of what we need to be concerned about now, we find out, are the prying eyes and interests of our own government. Rather than being able to rely on our own government to support us and to protect our privacy in this modern world, it appears that our government is itself a cause for concern.