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New privacy watchdog says cyberbullying bill needs fixes

Privacy commissioner nominee Daniel Therrien arrives at a Commons access to information committee in Ottawa on Tuesday June 3, 2014.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's new privacy watchdog is calling for changes to the Conservative government's cyberbullying bill, saying it gives police, border guards and other public officials overly broad power to access Canadians' private information.

Daniel Therrien made the comments Tuesday, five days after being approved as commissioner, to a committee considering Bill C-13. Mr. Therrien said he had four objections to the bill, including to its provision granting immunity to companies that give private information to police or other government officials voluntarily without a warrant.

"At the end of the day, this bill … would authorize telecommunication companies to disclose sensitive personal data about Canadians to law-enforcement officials simply based on a request that is not even made in the context of an investigation. I think that is very broad and of concern," he told reporters Tuesday.

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( How are Canada's privacy laws about to change? Read The Globe's easy explanation)

Mr. Therrien is among several experts to express concerns with Bill C-13, a list that includes provincial commissioners, the Canadian Bar Association, privacy experts and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Another bill, S-4, also has privacy implications, and passed a Senate committee after being amended Tuesday.

On C-13, however, Mr. Therrien had called for the bill to be split – one portion dealing with the widely supported cyberbullying measures, which could be swiftly passed, and another with the new surveillance powers. Government has declined to do so, but he repeated that call on Tuesday. "I remain hopeful," he said. He said it is not clear "what kind of requests [police can make], for what kind of information? What kind of data exactly is provided to law enforcement agencies? That is the type of information that I think parliamentarians should have, and Canadians should want to have." He said it was "extremely important to have a discussion on that narrow but crucial point. "

Aside from warrantless disclosure, Mr. Therrien had three other concerns. He said too little evidence was required for police to get certain surveillance warrants created by the bill – for some, police need only provide reasonable evidence to "suspect" wrongdoing, not the higher threshold of reasonable grounds to "believe." The lower threshold is needed to get a "dial number recorder" placed on a landline, Mr. Therrien said. However, he called transmission data more broad, such as which websites a person has visited. "It's more than phonebook data for sure and it contains important, sensitive, personal information," Mr. Therrien said of transmission data. He supports using the higher threshold.

Secondly, he said the range of "public officers" given new powers includes police, wardens, airline pilots, mayors, customs officers and fisheries officers. Some of those agencies have "no dedicated review and no requirement to provide public reporting" of their actions, he said in a written submission to the committee. He recommended government be more specific in who can use the powers.

Finally, he called for broader oversight of the use of the bill's new powers, such as a review five years after it passes.

Conservative MPs on the committee criticized Mr. Therrien's testimony, asking him why he was repeating criticisms given by other groups. Mr. Therrien shrugged it off afterward. "My position is that although some aspects of the bill are appropriate, that others need more investigation. And I will leave others to defend their position as they see fit," he said.

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A Senate committee passed Bill S-4, which authorizes certain data-sharing between companies and with government. The Conservative senators passed an amendment to the bill rolling back government powers to block notification of an individual whose privacy was breached in a serious case.

Neither C-13 nor S-4 are expected to become law before fall.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Josh is a parliamentary reporter in Ottawa. Before moving to the nation's capital in 2013, he covered provincial affairs in Edmonton and throughout Alberta. He joined the Globe in 2008 in Toronto before returning to his home province in 2010. More

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