Canada to adopt terrorism law to spy on homegrown terrorists – will it be challenged?

By Christine Duhaime | October 16th, 2014

New proposed terrorism surveillance law

The government of Canada will announce proposed legislation tomorrow to increase its counter-terrorism measures in response to the national security threats from the Islamic State.

The proposed law will give more power to CSIS agents in Canada to detect and track persons associated with, or suspected to be associated with, terrorism. According to the government, the new bill will:

  1. Allow CSIS to obtain information on Canadians fighting abroad with terrorist groups, including to obtain from and share information with the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
  2. Let CSIS track Canadians engaging in terrorist activities overseas.
  3. Authorize the sharing of information in respect of suspected terrorists with the US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK with a view to tracking and reporting the activities of suspected terrorists among this group of nations.
  4. Give CSIS informants protection from disclosure in the same way we give such protection to police informants.

The government is also, at a later stage, implementing laws to deal with homegrown terrorists in order to be able to surveil them more and to prevent their return to Canada if they leave. Austria has already taken such steps and will not permit the return to Austria of a number of teen-ISIS brides.

NSA – type of surveillance legal and necessary for terrorism says US Court

With respect to spying on Canadians, there are concerns with striking the right balance between infringing civil rights and protecting our national security. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada guarantees freedom of association and expression, and the right not to be unreasonably searched or have property seized. National security level surveillance of terrorists and those associated with them will trigger discussions in this country on the nexus of these competing interests.

Courts in the US have ruled that the NSA program is legal and necessary to counter the threat of terrorism. The NSA collects telecommunications records including our telephone call records, texts, emails, photos and social media entries and categorizes them to create “rich profiles” of us when the information is culled. A number of NSA surveillance news stories speak to the effectiveness of the NSA program not only because the program successfully stops terrorists but also because the program may be used for purposes other than for counter-terrorist efforts.

In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the NSA surveillance program arguing that it exceeded the authority of the US Patriot Act of 2001 and violated the 1st and 4th Amendments of the US Constitution.

The Court noted that the US Constitution is not a suicide pact and the right to be free from search, seizure (and surveillance) is not absolute. It also noted that liberty and security can be reconciled within the law without having to choose among them because terrorist activities imperil civil liberties.

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