Access this

This morning, the government tabled its so-called “lawful access” bill — which, if enacted, would enormously expand the ability of law enforcement agencies to engage in telecommunications surveillance (and for certain types of information, without even the benefit of a warrant).

This was hardly unexpected — in the run-up to finally tabling the legislation, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has been launching preemptive strikes against those who would criticize the proposed legislation, accusing them of “aligning themselves with child pornographers.”

BCCLA Policy Director Micheal Vonn has been on media outlets all morning, giving her take on the proposed legislation, so we’ll be back with a round-up of her commentary. In the meantime, we wanted to share with you some resources to help make sense of these bills.

Last month, the BCCLA issued a report on “lawful access” legislation, in anticipation of today’s bills. What is “lawful access”? Well, we of course encourage you to read our report in full, but here’s a teaser:

“Lawful access” refers to the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to lawfully conduct surveillance, and intercept or collect personal information of individuals, for example, by means of a search warrant. . . . The proposed new legislation takes advantage of new technologies, new modes of communication and new social practices to significantly expand access by law enforcement agencies to the personal information of individuals. Indeed, while referred to as “lawful access” powers, the lawfulness of some of these powers under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is questionable.

For a quick primer on “lawful access” and why these bills are deeply problematic, we commend to you Michael Geist’s very information FAQs: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lawful Access, But Were (Understandably) Afraid to Ask.

Check out also (un)Lawful Access, a 15-minute video featuring interviews with Canadian experts (and produced by our colleague Kate Milberry).

And in the past, the Privacy Commissioners in Canada have also expressed their concerns about previous iterations of today’s lawful access legislation. The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario made submissions to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada during the 2005 lawful access consultations. Last year, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart sent an open letter to the Minister of Public Safety outlining her serious concerns about potential lawful access legislation.

If all of this has gotten you riled up, send a message to your MP via Open Media’s site.

Update (April 15): Here’s some of the BCCLA’s commentary in the media yesterday.

CBC: Online privacy erosion dismays critics

Georgia Straight: Court challenge likely if online surveillance bill passes, suggests B.C. civil rights advocate