Category Archives: Civil Rights

Accountability Crisis

When our governments are going rogue, who or what is going to hold them to account?

 

Lately I’ve been running into so much lack of legal accountability at the most fundamental operating levels of our public agencies, I don’t know where to turn to demand accountability.

After investigating the BC Premier’s Office and its suspicious dearth of documents about major decisions, for example, the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner this year suggested that public employees should have a “duty to document.” But the Commissioner also mentioned that she did not have jurisdiction over the BC Document Disposal Act (DDA). That caught my attention even more. Who, I wondered, ensures that governments and public employees obey the law when they decide what records to permanently delete or shred?

I found out that some training of public employees in rules for document filing and deleting is done, but no one actively monitors compliance. “There are no provisions under the DDA for central monitoring of records disposal,” read a statement from the ministry in charge of information services. I also discovered I’m not the only watchdog worrying. Scanning BC’s Open Information website (where many results of freedom of information requests are posted), I saw that a media outlet recently seemed to be researching a controversial provincial government trade mission to Asia, and then requested copies of emails from people ordering other people to delete those very records. What’s then laid bare in the released documents is that the word “transitory” has become common parlance at government’s highest levels.

Read the rest at Focus online.

“Curiouser and Curiouser”

Ruling on BC Police Chiefs contradictory and confusing. (Originally published in Focus, July 2013)

In May, Acting Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists Jay Fedorak issued a decision that the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP) do not need to register as political lobby groups under BC’s Lobbyists Registration Act. Unfortunately, rather than providing clarity, Fedorak’s reasoning has merely fuelled questions swirling around the secretive activities of our police chiefs.

Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists Mary Carlson launched an investigation of the two police chief associations in October after I reported my questions about the associations to her (see Focus, November 2012, and May 2013). The associations were claiming to be “private groups” exempt from BC’s freedom of information laws covering public bodies. However, I asked, if the associations are actually private groups, aren’t they legally required to be registered and tracked as lobby groups, since they do a lot of political lobbying? (Police chief associations in other provinces are registered lobby groups in their provinces.) One way or another, I reasoned, our police chief associations have to be accountable to some laws covering either public or private entities, surely?

Carlson was actively investigating the case for months. However, Carlson suddenly went on leave. Fedorak took over in April and quickly issued a surprising—and surprisingly brief—decision.

Fedorak didn’t grapple with any of the actual substantive issues of the case. Only a single item of evidence was cited in his analysis—a letter of defense from the BCACP President. Fedorak wrote that he agreed with the BCACP President that “when police chiefs are participating in [the BCACP and BCAMCP], they are not ceasing to act as federal and local government employees or police chiefs… [They are working] on behalf of their respective local governments or the RCMP.” Basically, Fedorak concluded that these associations are simply comprised of police chiefs performing their normal public duties as public servants for public bodies, and therefore are not required to be registered as lobby groups.

Okay…except this is a strange conclusion for a number of reasons. Fedorak did not even address the fact that both associations have continued claiming the exact opposite to Focus and to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC); that is, the police chiefs have continued claiming to us that they are “private” groups not subject to public freedom of information laws. Fedorak also did not address the fact that the BCACP as of January became a registered non-profit society, and have long had their own independent budget and a non-government employee. And Fedorak also did not address the fact that the OIPC in September made the determination that the BCACP and BCAMCP “are not a public body.”

And all of this is even more peculiar considering Fedorak’s regular job is OIPC Assistant Commissioner. He was appointed temporarily to the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyist’s by Elizabeth Denham, who technically oversees both independent offices in her role as both Registrar of Lobbyists and Information and Privacy Commissioner. So Fedorak surely knew that the OIPC had previously concluded that the BCACP and BCAMCP are not public bodies, even as he was concluding in his role as the Acting Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists that the associations essentially are public bodies. He also would have known, or should have known, that the BCACP has continued refusing, as a “private” group, to provide copies of its archives through freedom of information processes, even though Fedorak in his ruling seemingly suggests the BCACP has been openly releasing all documents.

BC Civil Liberties Association policy director Micheal Vonn comments, “You can’t be apples in this basket and oranges in this basket. You are either a public, or private, entity. Because all citizens’ rights in relation to you depend on this distinction…Transparency and accountability issues hinge on this.”

Would Vonn call the decision of the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyist’s confusing, then? “Confusing is a fair characterization, but I think you want to go a little farther than that,” she answers. “We have a decision from another body [the OIPC] that comes to a completely contradictory conclusion. Not a different conclusion. Contradictory…This does not square. We need an umpire here to call this one, and we don’t have it at the moment.”

Interestingly, after a copy of a final communique with me about the case was emailed out to various parties, the Lobbyist Registrar’s contracted lawyer on the case, Frank Falzon, chose “reply to all” apparently accidentally. “I’m sure you’ll be hearing more on this issue,” Falzon wrote to Fedorak and another Registrar staff member.

Hmm, so apparently even the Registrar’s own lawyer doesn’t believe the case is as cut and dried as Fedorak’s decision made out?

I hope Mr Falzon is right; we at Focus would like to take all the outstanding questions about these police chief associations to a judicial review. Any lawyer out there who can offer pro-bono help?

Op-ed on Halifax Election Published in The Coast

(I just published the following article in The Coast in Halifax. Can’t say I’m feeling inspired by the comments below it — and I’m trying to defend these guys’ rights to fair elections becaaaaussse…?? Oh, I’m sure there’s a good reason, it just slips my mind right now what it is. rw)

Was Halifax’ e-vote Hacked?

Evidence shows last fall’s online voting in Halifax was not secure. But is anyone going to do anything about it?

It’s been several weeks since I revealed evidence that the online voting in last fall’s municipal elections in Halifax was not secure. Now I’m starting to wonder, does anyone care? How many people care about defending our most basic pillar of democracy—our elections?

Read the rest at Halifax’ The Coast.

Elections Ontario Releases Damning Report on Internet Voting

Elections Ontario’s “Alternative Voting Technologies Report” released today tries to put an optimistic face on things — e.g. expressing hope that a unique, enforced, province-wide government-issued ID card could help solve some of the problems — but generally they admit that online voting is too risky. A few quotes from their rundown of other jurisdictions:

“In an April 2013 report on compliance with the voting process, Elections Canada indicated that “current Internet voting systems carry with them serious, valid concerns about system security, user authentication, adequate procedural transparency, and preserving the secrecy of the vote.””

“In 2010, Washington D.C.’s internet voting pilot project was compromised by a group of four University of Michigan professors and students who, within 48 hours of the system going live, gained near complete control of the election server. The students and professors were able to successfully change every vote and reveal almost every secret ballot. Election officials did not detect the breach for nearly two business days.”

“In 2000, the U.S. Military implemented a pilot project to evaluate an internet voting implementation. A total of 84 votes were cast, and the cost was approximately $62 million dollars. It was considered to have failed to address numerous key security issues. The program was intended to continue in 2004, but a report analyzing the security of the system indicated that there remained a significant number of vulnerabilities. As a result, the project was cancelled with unresolved security issues cited as the primary cause.”

“Under the Help America Vote Act, the U.S. Department of Defense had been researching and analyzing plans for potential internet voting possibilities. In 2012, plans for internet voting by overseas military personnel were cancelled after a security team audited their $22 million system and found it to be vulnerable to cyber?attacks.”

The report also reviews the 2012 online voting in the elections in Halifax Regional Municipality, and it is evident that even Elections Ontario was not informed by the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre or HRM that there had been significant security concerns flagged during the election period. It’s this frequent lack of honesty surrounding online voting which is most concerning — they become elections whose fairness is based entirely too much on blind trust.

Halifax Election Security — the Story and Documents

I went on CBC radio in Halifax to discuss concerns about the security of their online election, and then was stunned to hear how an elections official went on the next day to patently dismiss all concerns. Consequently, security researcher Kevin McArthur has gone public with some of the background story, and some of the evidence, surrounding my recent video about the security vulnerabilities in the Halifax election.

I’m also posting the documents I obtained from the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre featured in the video: Public Safety disclosure halifax election A-2013-00029

Note that Kevin has posted some of the unredacted documents he submitted to CCIRC — very interesting, and the basics are understandable even to non-technical people.

I think the most interesting and important aspect of all this, though, is how it highlights the way the security of internet voting is so complex that the average person can only choose whether to believe any particular expert or authority or not. Why would we want to turn our elections into processes that are so complicated that we’re then requiring people just to accept on faith that they are fair and valid? It’s fundamentally undemocratic. Paper ballots, properly tracked and audited, work great and are easy to understand.