Liberal Cybersecurity Bill Is Being Compared To Legislation In Authoritarian States

Report calls for significant amendments, warning that Bill C-26 in its current form “Authoritarian governments would be able to point to a non-amended Bill C-26 in the course of justifying their own unaccountable, secretive and repressive ‘security’ legislation.”

As the Liberals face sustained criticism for their use of the Emergencies Act – seen by many critics as an authoritarian-style abuse of government power – their proposed cybersecurity legislation is being compared to legislation in authoritarian nations.

In a report by the The Citizen Lab, Bill C-26 (An Act respecting cyber security, amending the Telecommunications Act and making consequential amendments to other Acts), significant concerns about the legislation have been revealed:

“On June 14, 2022, the Government of Canada introduced “Bill C-26: An Act respecting cyber security, amending the Telecommunications Act and making consequential amendments to other Acts.” If passed into law, it will significantly reform the Telecommunications Act as well as impose new requirements on federally regulated critical infrastructure providers. This report, “Cybersecurity Will Not Thrive in Darkness: A Critical Analysis of Proposed Amendments in Bill C-26 to the Telecommunications Act,” offers 30 recommendations to the draft legislation in an effort to correct its secrecy and accountability deficiencies, while suggesting amendments that would impose some restrictions on the range of powers that the government would be able to wield. These amendments must be seriously taken up because of the sweeping nature of the legislation.”

As noted by The Citizen Lab, Bill C-26 will allow the government to issue public orders that are then contradicted by secret, internal government orders:

“Where orders or regulations are issued, they would not need to be published in the Canadian Gazette and gags could be attached to the recipients of such orders. There may even be situations where the government could issue an order or regulation, with the aforementioned publication ban and gag, that runs counter to a decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and that overrides aspects of that decision. And in any cases where a telecommunications provider seeks judicial review, it might never see the evidence used to justify an order or regulation. However, if a telecommunications provider is found to have deliberately ignored or failed to adhere to an order, then either the individuals who directed the action or the telecommunications provider could suffer administrative monetary penalties.”

And that’s not all.

The Minister of Industry will be granted immense new powers under the legislation, powers which come with little to no accountability or oversight whatsoever:

“As drafted at time of writing, Bill C-26 would empower the Minister of Industry to compel telecommunications providers to do or refrain from doing anything in the service of securing Canadian telecommunications networks against the threats of interference, manipulation, or disruption. The legislation would authorize the Minister to compel providers to disclose confidential information and then enable the Minister to circulate it widely within the federal government; this information could potentially include either identifiable or de-identified personal information. Moreover, the Minister could share non-confidential information internationally even when doing so could result in regulatory processes or private right of actions against an individual or organization. Should the Minister or other party to whom the Minister shares information unintentionally lose control of the information, there would be no liability attached to the government for the accident.”

In a summery of their key concerns, The Citizen Lab says lists the following as the biggest problems:

  • The breadth of what the government might order a telecommunications provider to do is not sufficiently bounded.
  • The excessive secrecy and confidentiality provisions imposed on telecommunications providers threaten to establish a class of secret law and regulations.
  • Significant potential exists for excessive information sharing within the federal government as well as with international partners.
  • Costs associated with compliance with reforms may endanger the viability of smaller providers.
  • Vague drafting language means that the full contours of the legislation cannot be assessed.
  • No recognition of privacy or other Charter-protected rights exists as a counterbalance to proposed security requirements nor are appropriate accountability or transparency requirements imposed on the government.

In their full report – which can be viewed here – The Citizen Lab details warned of what would happen if significant amendments are not made to the legislation:

“Should these recommendations or ones derived from them not be taken up, then the government will be creating legislation of the worst kind insofar as it will require the public—and telecommunications providers—to simply trust that the government knows what it is doing, is reaching the right decisions, and that no need exists for a broader public discussion concerning the kinds of protections that should be put in place to protect the cybersecurity of Canada’s telecommunications networks. Cybersecurity cannot thrive on secretive and shadowy government edicts. The government must amend its legislation to ensure its activities comport with Canada’s democratic values and the norms of transparency and accountability.”

Authoritarian drift

At a time when the Canadian government is saying all the right things internationally about supporting democracy and opposing authoritarian states, their actions at home fail to match up.

While Canada is certainly freer than countries like Russia or China, that’s not the standard we should hold ourselves up against.

Instead, we should seek to live up to the great aspirations of those who fought and died so Canada could be the freest nation in the world, a nation where the true potential of human creativity is unleashed through liberty.

Right now, we are falling far short of that under a government that seeks to continually move Canada in a more authoritarian direction while hiding behind political correctness and empty platitudes.

This authoritarian drift must be stopped, and Canada must move to adhere to our true values and principles.

Spencer Fernando

Photo – YouTube

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