Online surveillance Bill C-30 – good for national security or invasion of privacy?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The introduction of the controversial online surveillance bill, Bill C-30, last February was met with a wave of collective opposition rarely seen in this country.

Left-leaning politicos, civil libertarians, and even some staunch Tories were perturbed by a piece of the legislation which would allow authorities access to Canadians' Internet subscriber information without a warrant.

But just because we don't like it, doesn't mean it isn't good for us.

That's the message, at least, coming from the counter-terrorism community.

In a letter to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews -- obtained by CP and published Friday -- CSIS head Dick Fadden says the spy agency was "extremely pleased" to see the bill come before Parliament, considering it "vital" to protecting national security.

And, while he says he's willing to tweak to the Bill to make it more palatable to weary Canadians, he insists the intercept capability requirements are of primary importance to the Service.

[Related: Magnotta case and online surveillance bill linked in memos ]

Carleton University counter-terrorism expert Martin Rudner had the same message when he spoke to CKNW Radio in Vancouver two weeks ago.

The Distinguished Research Professor at Carleton University said that Canada needs Bill C-30 because it still faces threats from terrorist organizations seeking to mobilize Muslim youth in western democracies.

He said the legislation is not a violation of privacy and used an interesting metaphor comparing Internet surveillance to license plate surveillance.

"Nobody is anonymous going down the street in a car. You have a license plate. Your car is visible," he told CKNW host Jon McComb.

"You do have the privacy in the sense you don't have to tell anybody why you're on the street or what you're doing on the street.  And the metaphor [with Bill C-30] would be we can track the activity on the Internet  [like we track] whose going down the street," he said.

"If we see a large number of cars congregating in front of a house of somebody we already know is suspect of terrorism, for example, then law enforcement can come along and ask people why they're there because there was a reasonable grounds to suspect."

Rudner adds that other countries around the world, including the U.K., have also introduced similar legislation.

It may not be ideal but things like Internet surveillance, full body scans at airports and even voice recorders at borders are all now, unfortunately, necessary.

Welcome to 2012.

[ Related: Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah listed Canada among proposed al-Qaeda targets ]