Wiretap bill a needless invasion of privacy

On Tuesday, the Liberals introduced Bill C-74, whose short title is the “Modernization of Investigative Techniques Act.” According to the government, C-74 is an “act regulating telecommunications facilities to facilitate the lawful interception of information transmitted by means of those facilities and respecting the provisions of telecommunications subscriber information.”

Beyond all this technical jargon, the bill will essentially allow agencies like the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the police to access personal information like addresses, phone numbers, and even IP addresses upon request of Internet and phone providers. If this bill is passed, it could potentially hurt all personal rights to privacy, adding to a looming surveillance state where no amount of information can remain outside the public sphere.

Given CSIS’s track record, it is hardly unreasonable that concern has been raised. In September, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew apologized for the way CSIS sullied the reputation of Bhupinder Singh Liddar, a well-known presence on Parliament Hill. Liddar was appointed by Prime Minister Chrétien as consul general to Punjab, India in October 2003, only to be removed from the post in January 2004. According to CTV, a report by Paule Gautier, the former chairwoman of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, Liddar “was denied a consular appointment to India because of a hasty, slipshod assessment by a rookie CSIS investigator.” There have been suggestions that the cancellation of Liddar’s appointment was driven by shifts in political power. And while the act limits power to CSIS and police officials, we are not confident in the discretion of these officials to use this power only in particularly urgent matters. The possibility an individual could be targeted simply because he or she might fit a terrorist profile for example, is a risk few of us are willing to take in the name of public safety. The policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association told the Toronto Star that “the point here is, if the police can’t be troubled with getting a warrant, it’s because they haven’t met the standard of reasonable and probable grounds to access the warrant.” If this bill is passed, it could potentially mean that rather than being innocent until proven guilty, an individual is automatically assumed guilty until proven innocent.

The events of Sept. 11 and the subsequent terrorist attacks have created an atmosphere of fear that has only been perpetuated by agencies like CSIS, focused on uncovering the next possible terrorist act. The fact remains that the people with the capabilities to carry out terrorist attacks are also those most capable of evading the kind of surveillance C-74 will grant police and CSIS, leaving normal, everyday Canadians with the feeling that Big Brother is watching them.

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