Canada’s data retention, mass surveillance, and net neutrality laws explained
As an American, I often envy Canadians. They’re well-liked around the world and they get free healthcare. They have a cool Prime Minister and generally keep things pretty low key. But it’s not all maple syrup and hockey for my neighbors to the north.
Canada’s laws regarding data retention, mass surveillance, and net neutrality are not so enviable. In the past few years, politicians and corporations have sought to pass legislation that imposes on Canadians’ right to privacy and controls how they use the internet. In some cases, they succeeded, and several bills are still waiting in the wings for a vote.
These laws are usually presented under the guise of either trade deals or national security. In this article, we’ll lay out some of the major laws and bills still in Parliament that affect the Canadian internet.
- 1 Laws now in effect
- 2 Bills still in Parliament
- 3 How Canadians can combat surveillance and censorship
Laws now in effect
Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C-11)
The Copyright Modernization Act, or Bill C-11, was passed in 2012 and contains two controversial provisions. The first deals with “digital locks”, and the second concerns the “notice-and-notice” system.
The Act’s digital locks provision resembles the United States’ Digital Millenium Copyright Act when it comes to digital rights management, or DRM. DRM prevents users from modifying, repairing, improving, distributing, and otherwise using the product in a way not authorized by the copyright holder. Bill C-11 made it illegal to bypass DRM.
You can read more about digital locks in our guide to DRM.
The law protects Canadians who use copyrighted material for parody, satire, education, remixing, and other forms of fair use so long as no digital locks are broken. Libraries may reproduce copyrighted material if the current format is obsolete.
The notice-and-notice system requires internet service providers in Canada to forward infringement notices from copyright owners to customers. ISPs must retain information on the customers for six months, and up to 12 months of court proceedings are launched.
The notice-and-notice system primarily targets people who torrent copyrighted movies, TV shows, books, and music. In Canada, damages are capped at $5,000.
Copyright holders from the United States, however, in some cases sent letters to Canadian ISPs that threatened customers with litigation amounting to as much as $150,000 per infringement. Canadian officials ordered US media companies and their copyright trolls to back off.
It is generally assumed that the notice-and-notice provision does not apply to VPN providers, as some Canadian providers still offer no-logs services that vow not to record the content of customers’ traffic.
Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51)
Bill C-51, which became law in January 2015, broadened the authority of the Canadian government to conduct surveillance on both Canadian citizens and foreigners. It also allows that information to be shared more freely between government agencies.
The law has been criticized for granting spying agencies sweeping new powers similar to the US National Security Agency (NSA). It allows Canadian intelligence agencies to collect private information including everything from vacation plans to business records to tax information. Critics say the law will be used to target non-terrorists with little legal oversight, disproportionately so with protesters and activists.
A nationwide movement to repeal Bill C-51 is currently gaining momentum.
Passed in March 2015, Bill 74 grants the Quebec government the power to force internet service providers to block gambling websites not operated by the provincial government.
ISPs argue that implementing the blocks will be difficult and costly. Mobile carriers, for example, must figure out how to enable blocking when customers are within Quebec, but not elsewhere in Canada.
Experts say this would be the first instance in Canadian history of government-mandated web censorship. They worry other provinces could expect the same power if it goes unchallenged. Critics bashed the law for being hidden in a budget bill. They proffered an alternative solution: just make gambling websites get a permit or license to legally operate.
The Quebec government says the law will help generate revenue for the province–not a typical nor ideal justification for censorship. A movement to repeal the law has surfaced and ISPs are expected to challenge the law in court.
Bills still in Parliament
Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act amendment (Bill C-12)
Bill C-12 amends the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). PIPEDA limits the personal information Canadian companies are allowed to share without a court order or warrant.
The changes would give company’s more freedom to share their customers’ personal information with “policing services”, a term that isn’t narrowly defined. Furthermore, it prohibits companies from informing their customers when their information has been shared. This is essentially a gag order.
Critics have called Bill C-12 the successor of Bill C-30, a similar proposed law that was eventually killed due to public backlash.
Bill C-12 has only received a first reading in parliament and has not resurfaced since 2011.
Combating Counterfeit Products Act (Bill C-56)
Bill C-56 aims to make Canada compliant with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). The US-born international trade agreement was designed to create a global standard of copyright enforcement by implementing a series of restrictions on the internet.
ACTA was unpopular, to say the least. Critics bashed it for being created behind closed doors without public input. While the details were never fully revealed, opponents complained that piracy of digital media was conflated with counterfeiting. It was rejected by the European Union and met with heavy resistance from several other countries.
Bill C-56 is viewed by many as an under-the-table means of ratifying ACTA in Canada. Critics say Canadian lawmakers were strong-armed by US trade representatives into putting forth the bill.
The bill is still in committee as of June 12, 2013. If passed, it could allow criminal penalties for copyright violations, the government to block access to or shut down websites, and border agents to seize and destroy personal electronics.
Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
Also called the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, CETA would, if enacted, eliminate 98 percent of tariffs between Canada and the EU.
Unfortunately, that’s only a surface-level summary. Crafted behind closed doors, insiders have indicated the agreement, like Bill C-56, will bring Canada into compliance with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
Critics cite many problems with CETA, including DRM provisions, criminal penalties for copyright violations, and censorship of websites. The fact that CETA was created without public input or any transparency whatsoever only compounds distrust.
Negotiations ended in August 2014, and all EU member countries approved it. Prime Minister Trudeau has signed on behalf of Canada. Now only the European Parliament needs to ratify it to become law on a provisional basis. Some parts still need to be ratified on a country-by-country basis.
How Canadians can combat surveillance and censorship
Canadians have two main ways of combatting surveillance, censorship, and anti-net neutrality efforts.
First, protect yourself. Guard your privacy and maintain security on all your devices. One of the best ways to do this is by employing a VPN, or virtual private network. A VPN encrypts all of a device’s internet traffic and routes it through an intermediary server in a location of the user’s choosing. This prevents your ISP and other entities from intercepting and monitoring what you do online. It also masks your IP address and location to websites and apps that your internet traffic travels to.
Related: What’s the best VPN for Canada? Here’s our top 5.
Second, get involved. Participate in campaigns, sign petitions, and join protests against these laws. One of the best organizations for keeping up to date and taking action on key internet-related issues in Canada is OpenMedia. OpenMedia is an activist organization similar to the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the United States. Sign up for the newsletter and follow OpenMedia on social networks for regular updates.