Crossing international borders can be worrying, especially for those carrying confidential or privileged information on their electronic devices. While I’ve seen a variety of documents and advisories explaining how to deal (or not deal) with American border authorities, there hasn’t been what I consider a decent guide for dealing with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). As of today, this deficit has been significantly remedied.
For the past several months, Greg McMullen has been working on a handbook to help Canadians (and non-Canadians) navigate officials’ demands for electronic devices at Canada’s national borders. The BCCLA has funded his work, and the handbook is intended for educational and discussion purposes; it isn’t intended to replace legal counsel or constitute firm legal advice. The handbook is written for a general audience and does a nice job of walking readers through what rights they enjoy at the border, CBSA policies, best practices, and what to do if you have been subject to a search.
Last year the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) approached me to prepare a report around forthcoming lawful access legislation. Specifically, I was to look outside of Canada to understand how lawful access powers had been developed and used in foreign jurisdictions. An early version of that research report was provided to the BCCLA mid-last year and was used to support their recent, formal, report on lawful access legislation. The BCCLA’s formal report, “Moving Towards a Surveillance Society: Proposals to Expand “Lawful Access” in Canada” (.pdf) provides an excellent, in-depth, analysis of lawful access that accounts for some of the technical, social, and legal problems associated with the legislation.
Today I am releasing my report for the BCCLA, titled “Lawful Access and Data Preservation/Retention: Present Practices, Ongoing Harm, and Future Canadian Policies” (.pdf link). I would hasten to note thatall research and proposals in my report should be attributed to me, and do not necessarily reflect the BCCLA’s own positions. Nothing in my report has been changed at the suggestion or insistence of the BCCLA; it is presented to you as it was to the BCCLA, though with slight updates to reflect the status of the current majority government.
In the report, I look to the United Kingdom and United States to understand how they have instantiated lawful access-style powers, the regularity of the powers’ usage, and how the powers have been abused. I ultimately conclude by providing a series of proposals to rein in the worst of lawful access legislation, which includes process-based suggestions (e.g. Parliamentary hearings on the legislation) and more gritty auditing requirements (e.g. a specific series of data points that should be collected and made public on a yearly basis). It’s my hope that this document will elucidate some of the harms that are often bandied about when speaking of lawful access-powers. To this end, there are specific examples of harms throughout the document, all of which are referenced, with the conclusion being that citizens are not necessarily safer as a result of expanded security and intelligence powers that come at the cost of basic charter, constitutional, and human rights.
I’ll be speaking at a forum about Canada’s forthcoming lawful access legislation on February 8 at St. Paul University. From 6pm-7pm there will be the formal book launch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ recent title, The Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0. Those attending the forum may be particularly interested in the two chapters on surveillance (one of which I authored). The lawful access event runs from 7-10PM. From 7:00-7:30 the organizers will be showing the mini-documentaries “(Un)Lawful Access” and “Moving Towards a Surveillance Society.” Following this, there will be two panels to discuss the expected legislation. The first (which I’m on) runs from 7:30-8:30 and discusses the technical elements of the forthcoming legislation. The panel is composed of myself, Kirsten R. Embree, Stephen McCammon, and John Lawford. The second panel runs from 8:45 to 9:30, and focuses on the political dimensions of the legislation. Panelists include Charlie Angus and Elizabeth May, with Michael Geist moderating. The final 30 minutes are devoted to summarizing the forum, outlining actions that are taking place, and suggesting continuing activities.
The Canadian SIGINT Summaries includes downloadable copies, along with summary, publication, and original source information, of leaked CSE documents.
Parsons, Christopher; and Molnar, Adam. (2021). “Horizontal Accountability and Signals Intelligence: Lesson Drawing from Annual Electronic Surveillance Reports,” David Murakami Wood and David Lyon (Eds.), Big Data Surveillance and Security Intelligence: The Canadian Case.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Stuck on the Agenda: Drawing lessons from the stagnation of ‘lawful access’ legislation in Canada,” Michael Geist (ed.), Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era (Ottawa University Press).
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “The Governance of Telecommunications Surveillance: How Opaque and Unaccountable Practices and Policies Threaten Canadians,” Telecom Transparency Project.
Parsons, Christopher. (2015). “Beyond the ATIP: New methods for interrogating state surveillance,” in Jamie Brownlee and Kevin Walby (Eds.), Access to Information and Social Justice (Arbeiter Ring Publishing).
Bennett, Colin; Parsons, Christopher; Molnar, Adam. (2014). “Forgetting and the right to be forgotten” in Serge Gutwirth et al. (Eds.), Reloading Data Protection: Multidisciplinary Insights and Contemporary Challenges.
Bennett, Colin, and Parsons, Christopher. (2013). “Privacy and Surveillance: The Multi-Disciplinary Literature on the Capture, Use, and Disclosure of Personal information in Cyberspace” in W. Dutton (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.
McPhail, Brenda; Parsons, Christopher; Ferenbok, Joseph; Smith, Karen; and Clement, Andrew. (2013). “Identifying Canadians at the Border: ePassports and the 9/11 legacy,” in Canadian Journal of Law and Society 27(3).
Parsons, Christopher; Savirimuthu, Joseph; Wipond, Rob; McArthur, Kevin. (2012). “ANPR: Code and Rhetorics of Compliance,” in European Journal of Law and Technology 3(3).