Former CSIS Director Ward Elcock said on CBC’s Power & Politics that CSIS needed expanded powers, specifically around issues like “lawful access.” Lawful Access is certainly an interesting term because it concerns getting IP information without a warrant and expanded surveillance powers without judicial oversight. The argument being made here is that technology is changing and surveillance powers need to keep up and there’s a risk of a “lone wolf” attack. This is becoming so tired and so old of an argument all one has to do is look back at all the calls for new powers and witness the same arguments being made over and over again. It is CSIS’s job to ask for more, as it is for any government agency to want more, that’s not abnormal or odd. But it is also the job of the agency and it’s reps to justify it and these arguments don’t do that. Everyone knows the odds of expanded surveillance stopping a “lone wolf” attack are slim as it is, expanded powers won’t do that and many also know that the internet is already under surveillance as are other communications. If the case needs to be made, make the case.

Perhaps if the public had a better idea of how surveillance was used in the past it might be easier to assess such things. My recent public episode in trying to get 65 year old documents released demonstrates how hard it is to get more information on past surveillance activity. What we do know from the PICNIC episode is that the RCMP was wiretapping secretly for decades and when wiretapping was introduced into law in the 1970s it was done to legalize an activity that had already been going on. When the call for new powers comes out then, one has to ask, is this because the agency is truly at a disadvantage or is it to justify and legalize an activity that they are already engaged in?

I noticed no mention in the Canadian media about the UK’s recent Snooper’s Charter
which you can read about on this site, and how an EU court already struck down some provisions of that law. The calls for more power in Canada seem to me to be about keeping up with Canada’s UK allies more than anything. Elcock stated in his interview that the Minister of Public Safety stated he does see some room for movement on these issues. Well then, why does the government even bother with public consultations and all the illusions of assessing the issue seriously? Is there any wonder why there’s mistrust of government? It’s not the job of government ministers to rub shoulders and wink and nod about agencies getting more but to seriously investigate the issue. And such back-door assurances raise doubts over the government’s plan of having a Parliamentary committee in charge of intelligence oversight. I find it somewhat ironic how privacy is valued by government and these agencies on this topic. How does that saying go? If the government hasn’t done anything wrong, why do they care if we see what went on in the past?

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