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Anti-terror bill a 'privacy game-changer': Privacy Commissioner

BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham
February 05, 2015 - 11:15 AM

KAMLOOPS – Now's the time to start questioning the federal government's terrorism Bill C-51 that could significantly alter our expectation of privacy, says B.C.'s privacy commissioner.

The new legislation gives federal authorities sweeping new powers to investigate terrorism but also expands their access to private information about Canadian citizens and share it among intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 

“This kind of broad sharing of information is a privacy game-changer and it's not clear as to whose information we’ll share with national security agencies, for what specific purposes and whether there are any safeguards in place,“ Elizabeth Denham told Thompson Rivers University law students Wednesday afternoon.

The bill is a government response to a shooting at Parliament Hill and other events the federal Conservatives say are terrorist acts, but has generated criticism from many people, including Denham, who said the bill could infringe on privacy rights. The bill would criminalize advocacy and promotion of terrorism, which may also conflict with the right to free speech.

Last October, privacy commissioners across Canada called on the federal government to adopt an evidence-based approach to justify the new security laws and urged the government to communicate with Canadians to determine if the laws are necessary and ensure effective oversight is included in any legislation if passed.

"We need to watch the watchers," Denham said.

She encouraged law students to join her in ensuring governments enforce access and privacy laws.

“It’s my job as a regulator to pull back the curtain,” she said, adding lawyers will also play an important role in protecting privacy. “(Canadians) will be looking at you to protect it.”

Since her appointment in 2010, Denham has advocated for privacy protection and transparency. Major cases during her term have involved scrutinizing ICBC for facial recognition technology used on driver’s licenses and online privacy rights for social media websites.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Glynn Brothen at or call 250-319-7494. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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