Will the long overdue Bill C-51 reform finally give Canadians the privacy protections they deserve?

After over two years, the federal government finally delivered on a long overdue promise, namely the reforms to the draconian, Harper-era gem: Bill C-51. These proposals, set out in the National Security Act 2017 or Bill C-59, were published after a tireless nationwide movement calling for the full repeal of Bill C-51 and a lengthy national security consultation that began last fall.

Amongst the top reforms Canadians in Bill C-51 were: Stronger oversight and accountability measures, rolling back expanded powers for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to conduct police activities, repealing provisions for broad information sharing between government agencies, and rejecting mandatory data retention laws for telecom companies.

But did Bill C-59 go far enough to address the top privacy concerns of Canadians and tackle the many other deeply troubling aspects of C-51? Or is it just a half-baked measure by a federal government seeking to claim it did its part while leaving some of the worst pieces of C-51 lurking beneath the surface? The answer lies somewhere in between.

Bill C-59 is undoubtedly a positive step toward safeguarding the privacy of Canadians, as it included encouraging reforms such as a new pan-government review body for our spy agencies and a much narrower definition of "terrorist propaganda” -- so that this term no longer encompasses activities like peaceful protest and artistic expression.

However, it fell short of addressing some of the most serious concerns associated with Bill C-51, namely information sharing and police powers for CSIS. This was particularly disappointing, given that the national security consultation revealed Canadians have significant concerns related to the sharing of sensitive data with foreign governments. Furthermore, broad powers for CSIS to collect and retain "publicly available" datasets went woefully unaddressed.

There is also no mention of measures to protect Canadians from invasive mass surveillance devices like Stingrays, or proactive measures to protect encrypted communications, which for many have become essential to our everyday lives, and critical to our digital and economic security.

Overall, the reform left worrying gaps that indicate the new legislation fails to give Canadians the privacy standards they've been asking for in an era where privacy is under constant threat by both government agencies and powerful corporations.

More importantly, despite C-59 making some progress on privacy, it remains clear that Canadians are still hungry for a full repeal of C-51 and won’t be satisfied with half-measures. What is certain is that C-59 will have to be substantially improved to give Canadians the robust privacy protections they deserve. And there is an opportunity for this to happen through amendments as the bill goes to committee in the fall.

There's no doubt that this will be near the top of MPs to-do list when Parliament returns, and OpenMedia has an online tool where citizens can message their MPs with a simple click and ask them to fill in the current gaps and strengthen our privacy protections. If we flood our MPs inboxes before they resume Parliament in the fall, they will not be able to turn a blind eye on our pressing concerns on C-51. Canadians can speak out here.

Marie Aspiazu is Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Image: Flickr/perspective

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