Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Privacy Commissioner urges changes to Anti-Terrorism Act

The Anti-Terrorism Act is up for review and a number of interested parties are making submissions to Parliament for its overhaul. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner has issued a press release (below) outlining its suggestions for reform:

Contained surveillance and increased oversight needed in Anti-terrorism Act to protect against loss of privacy rights:

"OTTAWA, May 9 - Greater accountability, transparency and oversight of agencies involved in national security is needed to curtail the cumulative impact of the Anti-terrorism Act on the privacy rights of Canadians, according to the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Jennifer Stoddart. The Commissioner today urged a Senate Special Committee to critically examine the appropriateness and effectiveness of the extraordinary powers granted under the Anti-terrorism Act and the associated loss of established privacy rights.

"No one denies the reality of the threat that the Act was intended to address, but we must ask ourselves whether what the Act gains us in security justifies the sacrifice of our privacy and other rights enshrined in our democracy," said Ms. Stoddart.

In a submission to the Committee, the Commissioner called for the Government of Canada to carefully examine the continued need for the Anti- terrorism Act and to conduct an empirical assessment of the proportionality of the measures adopted in the interests of anti-terrorism.

"Canadians are increasingly aware of their privacy rights and expect a reasonable and balanced approach to a national strategy to combat terrorism with greater accountability, transparency and oversight. The absence of serious evidence of the effectiveness of the extraordinary broad powers under the Anti-terrorism Act need to be questioned so security threats do not end up abolishing the very freedoms and democracy we claim to be defending," said Ms. Stoddart.

The Commissioner tabled a series of recommendations to strike the right balance between achieving national security objectives without unnecessarily encroaching on privacy rights including:


  • contained surveillance and increased oversight to include greater judicial oversight over activities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies;
  • greater transparency and openness to balance disclosure and national security interests;
  • creation of a security-cleared special advocate position to challenge arguments that information should not be disclosed to the affected party or before the judge;
  • continued review of the Anti-terrorism Act and the Public Safety Act;
  • development of a privacy management framework including a thorough review of outsourcing of personal information and the development of contractual clauses to mitigate against privacy risks;
  • strengthened reporting requirements to Parliament on a periodic basis to describe anti-terrorism programs and the effectiveness of measures to detect, stop or deter terrorist acts;
  • support for a National Security Committee of Parliamentarians but a recommendation that the Committee address, as part of its mandate, the need to reconcile privacy protection with national security requirements; and
  • a long overdue reform of the Privacy Act to examine its adequacy in protecting personal information collected, processed and shared by the Canadian government.

According to the Commissioner, the security and protection of privacy rights need not be seen as a trade-off, where one is sacrificed in the interest of the other. Both can be achieved with well-designed law, prudent policy and effective but not excessive oversight.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman, advocate and guardian of the privacy and protection of personal information rights of Canadians.

For more information, click on the following links:

For further information:

Renée Couturier, Acting Director, Public Education and Communications,
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada,
(613) 995-0103, rcouturier@privcom.gc.ca"

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