Business Leaders Speak Out Against Bill C-51
60 business leaders, a number of whom are in the high tech and financial sector, have come out strongly against the Conservative government’s anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. In a letter published in Openmedia (1), these business people charge that Bill C-51 “threatens to undermine Canada’s reputation and change [its] business climate for the worse.”
In their opinion, the Bill hands over too much power and leeway to the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to take arbitrary and unjustifiable action against their businesses, including the taking down of websites. “As it stands,” they argue, the Bill “criminalizes language in excessively broad terms that may place the authors of innocent tweets and the operators of online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, along with Canada’s Hootsuite and Slack (2), at risk of criminal sanction for activities carried out on their sites.”
Furthermore, the legislation empowers CSIS to take “unspecified and open-ended measures, which may include the overt takedown of multi-use websites or other communications networks with or without any judicial supervision.” The open letter questions why this legislation is necessary given that, under existing Canadian law, hate speech and promotion of criminal offences is already prohibited.
Of particular concern is the power being given to federal security institutions like CSIS and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) to take offensive and disruptive action within Canada. For example, “new CSE digital disruption activities can include measures such as the false attribution of disreputable content to individuals, and even planting of malware on individual computing devices.”
Recently, Jochai Ben-Avie, Internet Policy Manager for Mozilla, the organization that produces the Firefox web browser, raised a similar concern about CSIS and CSE being given the authority to launch cyberattacks within Canada and abroad with little or no oversight (3).
As Mozilla’s Ben-Avie points out, the problem is being compounded by extensive information-sharing to be allowed under the Bill between 17 different federal government agencies (and possibly foreign ones also). This information-sharing erodes “the relationship between individuals and their government by removing the compartmentalization that allows Canadians to provide the government some of their most private information (for census, tax compliance, health services, and a range of other purposes).”
How else could the invasive powers of Bill C-51 impact the interests of technology, financial and other businesses in Canada? The Open Letter argues that it will directly affect data security. “We know that many of our clients, including our government,” the authors say, “will only host services in Canada because of the invasive privacy issues in the U.S. The U.S. tech industry has already lost billions in revenue because of this, and we don’t want it to happen here.” However, as a result of Bill C-51, existing business clients in Canada could leave for Europe where privacy is more valued.
In addition, a consequence of the proposed sharing of information between 17 federal government institutions will be “duplicated data flowing between multiple unsecured federal government and foreign government databases [leaving] Canadians and Canadian businesses and Canadian businesses even more open to being victimized by data breaches, cyber criminals and identity theft.”
Even without Bill C-51’s permissive information sharing, there has already been “over 3000 breaches of the highly sensitive private information of an estimated 750,000 innocent Canadians in recent years.” As a result, we have “a privacy deficit in Canada that erodes trust in both commerce and trade – Bill C-51 deepens that deficit.”
What is not said but appears to underlie both the Open Letter and the Mozilla statement are other fears as well. The first is the fear that certain factions of big business will be allied with the federal government to use CSIS, CSE, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and so on to use disruption and dirty trick tactics against other sectors of business or competitors who are not part of the inner circle of big state.
Already, there is close information-sharing and surveillance alliances between certain giant technology companies and government such as Google in the U.S. (4), as well as between big oil and the Harper government in Canada (5). In that regard, it should be noted that there are some sectors of business in British Columbia, especially in the real estate, tourism, and fishing industries, who are not on board with the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline proposals. And there are even competing interests within the North American oil industry itself. What kind of dirty tricks can those business interests currently out of favour with the government expect from Bill C-51? And what kind of anarchy could result?
The second is that technology and financial sector businesses will be forced to cooperate with CSIS, CSE, etc. in violating the rights of Canadian citizens, i.e. becoming part of the “big brother” machine, whether they like it or not. Not to do so will mean that they, too, could become targets for repression and disruptive tactics, and being put on an “enemy of Canada” list.
One thing is clear – these technology companies that have signed the Open Letter have an intimate knowledge of how modern technology can be profoundly misused by government. To their credit, they are speaking out.
For its part, the federal government has just announced in its budget that it will be plowing more than $300 million into ramping up the operations of CSIS, CSE, RCMP and other security agencies.
There is some irony here. The Reform Party, which was a forerunner of the current Conservative Party, used to beat the drum back in the 1980s and 90s about the “big state” policies of the ruling federal Liberals. However, to their everlasting shame, the Harper Conservatives have outdone even the Liberals in unleashing a Frankenstein monster on our society.
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: email@example.com
(1) “Business leaders pen an open letter warning the government that Bill C-51 will cause serious damage to Canadian businesses.” Openmedia.ca. April 21, 2015.
(2) Hootsuite is a social media management company based in Vancouver with 500 employees in a number of countries and 10 million users worldwide, while Slack is a communications company recently valued at $2.76 billion (Wikipedia).
(3) Ben-Avie, Jochai. Mozilla Official Blog. March 25, 2015.
(4) Assange, Julian. “Google is not what it seems.” https://wikileaks.org/google-is-not-what-it-seems/
(5) Hume, Mark. “RCMP, intelligence agencies accused of spying on pipeline opponents.” Globe & Mail, Feb. 6, 2014.