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Surveillance practices in Canada, Facing Criticism

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With the revelation that the Canadian Revenue Agency(CRA) regularly supervises social networking sites, Canadian headlines are flooded with privacy concerns. It monitors the Facebook, Twitter, and other social network posts of Canadian suspects cheating on their taxes. The disclosure has set off a debate on what makes ‘publicly available information and what kind of investigation is considered directly related to a government program.

“The CRA does practice risk-based compliance, so for taxpayers identified as high risk, any relevant, publicly available information relating to the specific risk-based factors for the taxpayer may be consulted as part of our fact-gathering processes,” said spokesperson David Walters.

However, compared to the powers given by Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (also known as Bill-C51) to the government institutions, the CRA proceedings seem tame.

BILL-C51 given authority to CSIS and Police

 The prime minister gave police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) the following powers in the rule, Stephen Harper, who passed an act with this regard.

  • Empowers CSIS to detain a suspect without any charge or warrant, for up to seven days.
  • Anything that seems suspicious and linked to terrorism could be interrogated.
  • They could easily put an individual to a no-fly list if they suspect him to be in an act that would threaten transportation security or travel by air for the purpose of committing an act of terrorism.
  • Communication metadata such as phone numbers, email addresses, subscriber details, etc should be retained for 6 months and shared with 17 federal institutions.
  • People seeming to promote material such as terrorism through channels like blog, article, news report or any other form of literature, could be sentenced to jail.
  • Authority of “Ordering removal of terrorist propaganda” from the internet.
  • Sounding extremist, the account of twitter and such social websites could be obstructed.
  • Examination nad infiltration of groups considered to be high risk working on specific interests such as environmentalists, First Nations rights advocates, pipeline protesters,

The critic view on BILL-C51

After the bill disclosure, it met with a huge trove of criticism from the citizens and personalities linked with other professions such as legal scholars, business leaders, and even four former Prime Ministers, which was unsurprising. The common reservation raised by almost all the critics was the damage subjecting towards human rights in Canada.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien has fiercely criticized the impact these measures would have on Canadians saying, the new powers of 17 federal agencies to exchange personal and confidential information in the name of the war on terror are “excessive” and could affect ordinary Canadians.

Michael Geist has described the Bill as a “punch in the gut” for privacy and civil liberties.

However, the bill repeatedly characterizes the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) as an inspecting committee for CSIS, but the SIRC itself negates the view. SIRC has stated it had been intentionally designed to be a restricted, after-the-fact “review” body rather than a powerful “oversight” committee that could assess intelligence operations, and genuinely no efficient oversight exists.

Does new government makes a difference

The new liberal government vows to eliminate some controversial matters, acquainting parliamentary surveillance of intelligence agencies, but these steps are not witnessed yet. However, recently the two largest police forces from Quebec were reported to monitor the phones of many local reporters, forcing prime minister Justin Trudeau to insist on the importance of the independent press in a democratic state.

While using techniques like VPN (Virtual Private Network) could be efficacious for liberal government to balance national security and citizen rights.

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Zehra Ali is a Tech Reporter and Journalist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communication. Topics related to cybersecurity, IoT, AI, Big Data and other privacy matters are extensively covered by her on various platforms. You can follow her on twitter.

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