Over the past eight months, the steady stream of Snowden leaks have revealed the existence of a massive surveillance infrastructure intent on capturing seemingly all communications, including metadata on phone calls, Internet searches, and other online activity. While much of the surveillance originates with the U.S. NSA, the leaks suggest that Canada plays a key role in many initiatives and that Canadians’ data is undoubtedly captured in the process. Indeed, in recent months, we’ve learned about:
- Canadian capturing of metadata on Internet activity, including airport wifi and other wifi sources
- Canadian intelligence agency spying on Brazil
- Canadian cooperation with the NSA on spying at the G-20 meeting in Toronto
Moreover, we know that U.S. law provides fewer protections to personal information of non-U.S. citizens, suggesting that Canadian data residing in cloud-based servers in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable. Meanwhile, the Canadian legal rules remain largely shrouded in secrecy, with officials maintaining that programs fall within the law despite the obvious privacy interests in metadata and statutory restrictions on domestic surveillance.
I recently posted on a discussion I had last summer with a senior government official on the Snowden leaks. The official remarked that in the wake of the Snowden revelations the political risk did not lie with surveillance itself, since most Canadians basically trusted their government and intelligence agencies to avoid misuse. Rather, the real concern was with being caught lying about the surveillance activities. This person was of the view that Canadians would accept surveillance, but they would not accept lying about surveillance programs.
Today is the day that Canadians can send a message that this official is wrong. The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance is a global effort to galvanize people around the world to speak out against ubiquitous surveillance. Canadians can learn more here, but the key ask is to contact your Member of Parliament. If you are concerned with widespread surveillance in Canada, take a couple of moments to send an email or letter (no stamp required) to your MP and let them know how you feel (alternatively, you can fill out the form at this site). In addition, you can sign onto a global petition supported by hundreds of groups around the world.
I’ve written about the need for changes here and many others – including Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier, Kent Roach, Wesley Wark, Ron Diebert, David Fraser, Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian and Avner Levin, Craig Forcese, and Lisa Austin – have highlighted other potential changes. There are no shortage of ideas for reform. What we need now are Canadians to speak out to demand an open review and reform of Canadian surveillance law and policy.