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Anti-cyberbullying bill could harm privacy rights, warns mother of Amanda Todd

Amanda Todd took her own life after being bullied.

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Amanda Todd took her own life after being bullied. (CP)

OTTAWA - The mother of a B.C. teen who took her own life after she was sexually exploited online says a proposed crackdown on cyberbullying goes too far.

Carol Todd, whose daughter Amanda died by suicide in 2012, said Tuesday that she believes portions of Bill C-13 that could trample privacy rights should be removed from the legislation.

"We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety," Todd told a House of Commons committee that's studying the legislation.

"We should not have to sacrifice our children's privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, 'sextortion' and revenge pornography."

But Glenford Canning, the father of another prominent cyberbullying victim, Rehtaeh Parsons, told the committee the bill should be passed regardless of any concerns about private information.

"It seems so out of place to complain about privacy while our children openly terrorize each other to death for 'likes' on Facebook," Canning said.

"I respect privacy as much as any Canadian ... however, I believe Bill C-13 is not about an invasion of privacy, it's about allowing police officers to effectively address the many challenges of instant mass communication and abuse."

Both parents were part of a panel of victims and victims' families who appeared Tuesday before the Commons justice committee.

New Democrat MP Francoise Boivin sided with Todd, saying she's worried the entire law could be rendered useless if it faced a successful court challenge over privacy concerns.

She, too, urged the committee to hive off the more controversial portions of the bill so it could be passed more quickly, giving police greater powers to fight cybercrime.

But that's not likely to happen, Justice Minister Peter MacKay suggested Tuesday.

"The reality is that this bill is aimed at enabling police to more actively pursue online investigations for cyberbullying, but (also) for other forms of cybercrime," he said outside the House of Commons.

"And without that ability to pre-emptively prevent online crime we will not be able to save the lives of people like Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons and others."

Ottawa law professor Michael Geist has warned that C-13 — along with S-4, the Digital Privacy Act — would allow organizations to disclose subscriber or customer personal information without a court order.

The disclosures would also be kept secret from the people whose information is being shared.

Todd said that would amount to victims of online abuse being victimized twice.

"I don't want to see our children ... victimized again by losing privacy rights," she said. "I am troubled by some of these provisions condoning the sharing of Canadians' privacy information without proper legal process."

The forthcoming Conservative legislation would create a new offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images, aimed at curbing cyberbullying.

It would also give police new tools to help investigate the distribution of such images, as well as to probe electronic evidence transmitted over the Internet.

Currently, companies are allowed under law to voluntarily disclose personal information as part of an investigation by police, but can also insist on a court order.

Geist said Bill C-13 makes it more likely that those companies will disclose information without a warrant because the legislation removes any legal risks associated with making such disclosures.

"The immunity provision is enormously problematic," Geist wrote in a blog post last month.

Bill S-4 goes even further by expanding the potential of warrantless disclosure to anyone, not just law enforcement, he added.

The Department of Justice says Bill C-13 "simply aims to provide police with the necessary means to fight crime in today's high-tech environment while maintaining the judicial checks and balances needed to protect Canadians' privacy."

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