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Surveillance proposals under attack
(by Angus Loten)

Measures to combat cyber-crime. Experts list dangers in allowing access to computer, cell-phone communications

A proposed national security law allowing officials to eavesdrop on personal e-mail and cell phone conversations is an affront to civil liberties, a group of privacy advocates said last night.

"We will no longer have private lives," Jennifer Stoddart of Quebec's access to information commission told a crowd of several dozen at a public forum on electronic surveillance.

"George Orwell got it right, only we're Big Brother," added civil rights lawyer Julius Grey. "It's very dangerous."

The proposed legislation, made public last year in a federal report titled Lawful Access, is aimed at fighting cyber-crimes, including child pornography and money laundering.

It would allow security officials to intercept most digital communications, as well as day-to-day computerized transactions under certain conditions.

It would also require Internet service providers to store data on their clients, which could then be turned over to "law enforcement officials."

The report said this may include Revenue Department officials, among others.

The information could also be traded with security services abroad, creating a global database of personal information.

If adopted, the new law would bring Canada into compliance with the international Convention on Cyber-Crime, which the government signed in November 2001 but has yet to ratify.

"Collecting this information will make people more careful about what they say," Grey said.

"Everything you do that isn't entirely approved of can be used against you. People are going to be constantly cautious," he said, calling undue public surveillance counter to the "spirit of debate" required in a democracy.

Stoddart objected to the wording of the proposals, as too broad and much too vague.

"This project is just one of a series of similar laws, which could be used to create a giant national database," he said.

Civil liberties expert Cedric Laurent said the Criminal Code is already sufficient to deal with public surveillance.

"(The new proposals) would lower the criteria to obtain a search warrant," Laurent said, arguing that current restrictions are there to protect the public from arbitrary searches.

Grey said he agrees with adapting investigative techniques to modern technology.

"But we also need to defend tolerance," he said.

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