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Ottawa’s Hidden Agenda: Bill C-26 Aims for Secret Surveillance Backdoors

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Canada’s Bill C-26, currently making its way through the country’s parliament, includes “secretive” provisions that can be used to break encryption, researchers are warning.

As far as its sponsors are concerned, Bill C-26 is cyber security legislation intended to amend the Telecommunications Act and other related acts.

But the way the Telecommunications Act will be amended is by allowing the government to force companies operating in that industry to include backdoors in networks protected by encryption, a pair of University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab researchers suggest.

In case the government decides its surveillance needs require altering “the 5G encryption standards that protect mobile communications” – then this can also be done, should C-26 become law.

This raises several important questions, such as whether the bill’s purpose might be precisely to undermine encryption, considering that the government decided not to include amendments in the text that would prevent this.

Another worrying aspect is that given the already lacking level of security in the telecommunications space, the government would be expected to try to fix the existing problems, rather than create new ones, the researchers note.

The amendment that could have rectified this situation was proposed last year by the Citizen Lab, while civil society and industry leaders and experts also participated in parliamentary hearings concerning C-26 to recommend restricting what are said to be the draft’s broad powers to prevent “technical changes from being used to compromise the ‘confidentiality, integrity, or availability’ of telecommunication services.”

However, these warnings fell on deaf ears, with the bill now progressing through parliament without the recommended changes, and despite MPs stating that facilitating and broadening mass surveillance in Canada was not the motive behind C-26.

But, Citizen Lab researchers are warning, that the result will be the government giving itself the power to be the only entity to decide “when, and on what conditions, Canadians deserve security for their most confidential communications – personal, business, religious, or otherwise.”

As is the case with any undermining of encryption, the door to people’s online communications that the authorities want to unlock only for themselves, in reality, becomes open to everybody – other governments, hackers, criminals of various descriptions.

And when experts warn that weakened encryption makes everybody on the internet much less secure, they mean those government officials who push for this type of change, too.

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