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The Privacy Threats in Bill C-13, Part Two: The Low Threshold for Metadata

4 Comments

  1. Klondike Kevin says:

    Michael,

    Do you think a challenge to this bill based on section 8 of the charter would be successful? Given that it is demonstrable that metadata can reveal intimate details of one’s life, there should be a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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  3. Canadian Citizen says:

    Amazing that the same government who struck down Section 13 of the human rights act, because of it’s chilling effects on free expression, now promotes a bill that is considerably more restrictive and damaging to free expression in Canada.

  4. John Bolduc Arthur says:

    “In sum, the debate over metadata isn’t much of a debate at all since analysis of the privacy implications of metadata regularly concludes that it has significant value.”

    Not so fast… the reason it isn’t much of a debate is because fundamentalist libertarian arguments like this one are so self-referential, failing to engage the view they critique.

    First and foremost: you are using “privacy” and “revealing” as interchangeable concepts in this post; therefore, because metadata is revealing proves its private status. Well, that is not what privacy is: whether information is revealing or not tells us nothing about its private or public quality, only of its informative quality. Of course good metadata is highly informative: that’s what “information” means.

    The way you define your privacy excludes the possibility of anything that is both highly informative and highly and inherently public. Well obviously, MOST information is both, whether from journalism or academia, or our simple social observation of fellow human beings in the public square. Of course CSEC is looking for highly informative information, since the whole mission of intelligence – like journalism or science – is to learn about the world. So say “even CSEC” acknowledges that metadata is revealing, but what else what you expect them to claim? That their collection is safe because it is ineffective or irrelevant? You set them up as a straw man… A spy agency admitting it spies is not a concession to its critics. That metadata has such informative value proves that CSEC is justified in collecting: these are purposive requests.

    It’s casual, idle curiosity that constitutes abuse of intelligence power. It’s overreaching collection of low-vaue data that concerns me… but you’ve set my mind at ease! ;)

    What we also cannot do is define privacy as anonymity. Metadata is identifying information: it indicates who we are (or from whom our communications originate). Traditionally, Canadians have not considered basic personal identity to be a private matter in the physical world… we do not object to photo ID or licence plates, for example. Yet online, anonymity is a cherished tradition: there’s a culture clash there having nothing to do with rights.

    Personally, I’m a cyber-cynic and I don’t feel any particular expectation of privacy about anything I say or do online, and I don’t think most Canadians do either. Caveat Emptor… It you don’t like the neighbours looking in through the windows – or the cops parked across the street, for that matter – then the responsibility falls to you close the curtains. Now, you are certainly entitled to argue morally and normatively for why I *should* expect or demand privacy, and if convincing then Parliament has every right to restrict surveillance accordingly… for example, most people would agree with Cory Doctorow that what we do in a bathroom stall is obviously private (although its noteworthy that, like many of our most deeply private activities, defecation is not very informative or “revealing” about us at all). We feel the “substance, meaning or purpose of the communication” are likewise private, because we want a society where we can say different things to different people, so we require warrants. Many argue the view of a woman’s ears are inherently private (the majority disagrees, but the Muslim minority is entitle to take measures for the moral imperative of “modesty” and the state is wrong to intervene) The reason there is no “right to privacy” written into the Charter is that the scope of what is private is a cultural and subjective value – and therefore a matter for Parliament, not the courts.

    But there’s no moral content in this post to help me decide where C-13 should draw these moral lines. Some make claims, especially popular during the Arab spring, that an expansive online privacy will liberate societies and strengthen democracy; such cyber-utopianism a cogent moral argument, at least. But we certainly cannot resolve every single Canadian political decision by the litmus test of personal liberty, or worse, by only ever debating constitutionality…

    As to the extract form the courts’ language that browser history can “unwittingly” create a record, they were more apt than they knew: to be ignorant of this is truly witless, considering that as the court writes in the *very preceding sentence* the creation of a record is emphatically a designed and intended purpose of the function in browser software. The carelessness of criminals and terrorists is not to be held against the state: in other spheres ignorance of the law is no excuse, but for cyber-illiterate “expectations of privacy”, apparently, the court feels it is.