A cellphone camera taking a photo of the word 'privacy' on a monitor.

A cellphone camera taking a photo of the word 'privacy' on a monitor.

Striking a balance: online privacy and cyberbullying

B.C. Government supporting nine recommendations from feds including new Criminal Code of Canada offence

One of nine recommendations within a recently released government report is that a new criminal offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images be developed.

The report, titled Cyberbullying and the Non-consensual Distribution of Intimate Images, was crafted by a government working group for the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Justice and Public Safety.

The working group was tasked with reviewing the issue of bullying and cyberbullying and, in addition to the new offence, also recommended enhancing current criminal law responses to such issues.

The Government of B.C. supports all nine recommendations according to a release dated Friday, July 19 from B.C.’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton. These include:

– amendments to data preservation demands

– new production orders to trace a specified communication

– new warrants and production orders for transmission data

– improving judicial oversight while enhancing efficiencies in relation to authorizations and warrants

“Canadians have every expectation that our laws ensure their privacy and safety when engaging in these activities,” said part of Anton’s statement.

The Castlegar News spoke with B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham on Tuesday, July 30 with respect to the issue.

From a context perspective, Denham was quick to point out that she is mindful of her jurisdiction and any legislative amendments with respect to the Criminal Code of Canada will come from the federal government.

That said, federal and provincial commissioners have been commenting over the years on various lawful access initiatives, the most recent being the failed bill C-30, the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.

“I think the privacy commissioners across the country have shown through joint statements and letters that we are concerned with expansion of police powers and whether or not there are appropriate checks and balances and judicial oversight,” said Denham.

Denham said that if and when any of the recommendations from the report make their way into a government policy paper or legislation, then  commissioners will weigh in on the issue of whether or not a proper balance between law enforcement powers and privacy is properly struck.

The working group strongly recommended the Federal Government enact investigative tools and procedures to keep pace with modern technology, stating that Canada “lags far behind its international partners” in this regard.

Denham said she thinks cyberbullying, and being the victim of cyberstalking, is a significant social problem.

“I do think it’s positive that lawmakers are putting their heads together to come up with maybe some practical suggestions on how we update our laws,” she said. “It’s laudable but as privacy commissioner, it’s my duty to keep a close watch on these issues to make sure there’s a balance struck between new powers of enforcement and the individual rights of Canadians — it can’t be a blank cheque.”

Denham added that it can take many months if not years to put together major changes to legislation but if and when the Canadian Government moves forward on the issue of cyberbullying, she expects the privacy of Canadians will be protected with appropriate judicial oversight.

The full report from the working group can be viewed online: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/cndii-cdncii/index.html

More information about online safety can be accessed at GetCyberSafe, and NeedHelpNow.ca