“It’s about making sure people are safe and secure,” Joyce Murray says of Accountability and Transparency Act

MP Joyce Murray
Photo of Joyce Murray from Wikimedia commons and Jisc via Flickr

Coming off her second reading of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) Accountability and Transparency Act at the House of Commons yesterday, Vancouver Quadra liberal MP Joyce Murray sounded confident about her bill.

“This is really about fundamental democracy and looking at the over intrusion of government,” said Murray. “It’s about making sure people are safe and secure and I think my bill could do that.”

The private member’s Bill C-622 is intended to restore “much needed public confidence” in the operations of CSEC by updating its legal statute that dates back to 2001. Canada's electronic intelligence-gathering agency collects foreign intelligence from the Internet and is the top agency for cyber security for the federal government, according to a press release. Today, the Toronto Star reported that the spy agency is dropping “Canada” from its name and going back to the familiar handle CSE.

Bill C-622 calls to takes away the minister’s power to secretly authorize the interception of Canadians’ protected information, including meta-data, and it places that authority in the hands of an independent judge of the Federal Court.

The bill was brought forward earlier this year after CBC reported that CSEC had been monitoring Internet traffic on publicly available WiFi services at Canadian airports.  

 Murray saw interference with her bill at the House of Commons   from  Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney. He said her bill was just a duplication of on-going work.

“His reasoning was that intelligent oversight already exits, but none of them have review and oversight dedicated to the public,” argued Murray. With the varying agencies that work in different ways, Murray said the government has a “patchy system.”

Blaney tabled his own bill in the House of Commons on Monday to expand the powers of Canada's spy agency the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). His Bill C-44 - called  "the protection of Canada from terrorists act" - gives CSIS more powers of surveillance "to more effectively investigate threats to the security of Canada," and to give "greater protection" to confidential sources without having to identify them in court proceedings.

Murray was  warned that her bill might not be approved due to financial concerns, she said.

A private members' bill can only impose expenses on the federal treasury if it has a Royal Recommendation or ministerial endorsement, under House of Commons rules

“The bill does not require spending,” said Murray “it calls to request the costs not provide it.”

The MP is still gathering a lot of support for her bill by talking to organizations such as the Canada’s National Firearms Association.

“The recent government bill marketed as intended to prevent cyberbullying that would give police significant additional powers to obtain private information without warrant give ordinary people much cause for concern,” said the associations president Sheldon Clare in a press release.  Firearm owners are already very familiar with how this sort of data collection can be abused to target individuals and groups of individuals for dubious purposes.  Murray’s Bill C-622 is a good counterbalance to this risk to the privacy of Canadians.”

Clare added, “MP Murray’s bill seems to be a reasonable attempt to return the oversight of intelligence gathering activities to the elected representative of the people and we believe that this is the best way to go.  Certainly other democracies collecting this sort of information have processes to confirm that information is being gathered and used appropriately.”

The next debate on the bill will be held later this fall, and then put to a vote.

“I’m optimistic but also pragmatic," Murray said. "The government is going to ignore all of the voices that are calling for oversight.”

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