I just met with Justin Trudeau to talk about Bill C-51 and this is what I said to him

Recently, I joined with some of our country’s most respected CEOs in signing an open letter that was published in The National Post voicing our opposition to Bill C-51 on the grounds that it would be harmful to the technology sector. Mr Trudeau met with us today to hear our concerns. This is what I told him.

In the spring of 2014 John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, wrote a letter to President Obama. The reason for his letter was to warn The President that his government’s policies were killing his business. In the previous quarter Cisco’s earnings had fallen off dramatically in international markets, down 7% overall, with the BRIC region (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and down 13% in Mexico.

According to Chambers, the reason for this precipitous drop in sales was because the global markets no longer trusted Cisco. Their faith in the company had been shattered when it was exposed that the NSA was intercepting CISCO routers and planting spyware.

As CISCO proved, trust is at the heart of the technology business. It is one of the most valuable currencies and a business can never reclaim it once it is undermined.

Bill C-51 is a threat to Canadian business because the provisions included in the Bill seriously challenge the ability of Canadian companies to maintain the trust and safeguard the privacy of their clients. In terms of specifics, I would echo the comments provided by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, when he wrote in the Globe and Mail:

“The scale of information-sharing between government departments and agencies proposed in this bill is unprecedented. The new powers that would be created are excessive and the privacy safeguards proposed are seriously deficient.
…The legislation would allow for Canadians’ personal information to be shared if it is deemed “relevant” to the detection of new security threats. That’s an extremely broad standard that suggests the bar has been set far too low.”
…We need to create clear and reasonable standards for what personal information may be collected, shared, used and kept. We also need to ensure appropriate oversight and review. Currently, 14 of the 17 agencies that will receive information under the proposed law are not subject to independent oversight.

As it’s written the language that defines key elements in the bill can be broadly interpreted to include many activities that are standard international business practices today.

By eroding a company’s ability to protect its customers, Bill C-51 undermines our ability to compete internationally, threatens the health of our technology companies, and ultimately limits our ability as a country to build a secure and prosperous future. This is something that should concern all Canadians and should not be acceptable to those who want to lead our country into a future where our ability to lead technology will define our place in the world.

Going into the meeting I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to accomplish. The Liberals have already failed to oppose The Bill in the House of Commons and the Senate. Whatever parliamentary machinations are available to stop or amend this bill are better understood by professional politicians like Trudeau than by me. At this point I would hope Mr. Trudeau would do at least the following:

  1. Make a public commitment to repeal C-51.
  2. Publicly endorse OpenMedia’s Privacy Action Plan.
  3. Make a positive public response to the letter we signed.
  4. Encourage Liberal Senators to vote against C-51.

In the end my hope is that Mr. Trudeau recognizes the threat that this bill poses to the viability of the Canadian technology sector and all the people who depend on it for jobs, communications and access to services. And I hope he remembers that if and when this bill is brought into full effect, when we enter the ballot box we will remember who stood up for us when it counted. Mr. Trudeau, the technology world is watching. Watching and sharing.

To learn more about efforts to remedy the problems with C-51 follow the conversation on twitter at #stopc51

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