After announcing on May 10, 2013 to criminalize cyberbullying after a string of suicides, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has followed through his promise and proposed C-13, a controversial “Cyberbullying Law” that is stirring national debate.
While it has been noted earlier that C-13 introduces a “streamlined warrant,” which can allow police to easily gain a warrant for a suspect, new controversy has risen due the fact that the legislation will allow the police to gain access to computers, and remotely track cell phone users’ movements and activities.
Further controversy rose from the fact that while it is known as a “cyberbullying” bill, and its creation has been inspired by suicides of several children, there is absolutely no mentions of “cyber” nor “bully” in the document.
While the law introduces responsibility for sexting, the law mainly “greatly expand(s) police authority” giving them power to remotely hack into computers, mobile devices, or cars in order to track locations or record metadata, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association‘s Fundamental Freedoms Program Cara Zwibel told Members of Parliament.
Even the New Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien worried that the new bill will lower threshold for police to get a warrant to obtain data about Canadians’ phone calls and internet usage, and expand situations where security forces can obtain users’ information without ever going before a judge. He said that that his main concerns lie with the fact that C-13 gave law enforcement the power to access sensitive information solely based on “suspicion,” gave investigative power to “a broad range of authorities” including public officers and officers of peace, and gave legal immunity to persons or telecoms who voluntarily turn over sensitive data to law enforcement.
In addition, C-13 also introduces “computer program,” which means “computer data representing instructions or statements that, when executed in a computer system, causes the computer system to perform a function,” the bill reads.
According to Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at the Citizen Lab in the Munk School of Global Affairs told National Post, the concept of computer program allows many schemes to be staged by the authorities. “There’s a series of different tactics that they could adopt. They could engage in phishing schemes – deliberately serving infected files to computers – or it could involve sending URLs to people’s emails and when they click it, it infects their computers,” he said.
He added that with the powers granted by C-13, security forces could start installing malicious apps that function as listening devices, get data from Skype conversations, and other types of digital information.
“That’s the way that it reads,” Parsons stated. “Police could even hack into a car’s OnStar program to keep tracking of location, and call logs.” Parsons called the whole situation the dawn of “Govware”, which will risk “introducing significant, and poorly understood, new powers to the Canadian authorities.”
However, if the legislation is passed, the Canadians would not be the first state to institute internet surveillance. Germany’s “bundestrojaner” allows the state to eavesdrop on Skype conversations, and United States’ National Security Agency infected millions of devices to monitor users’ data.