Internet privacy laws could use an update
Article: Tanner Aulie – Contributor
On Jan. 28 interim federal privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier published the annual Privacy Commission Report, which includes recommendations on how the government could better protect the privacy of Canadians.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and take a look at Canada’s history of privacy legislation. Wait did I say memory lane? More like memory lame. You’ll appreciate that joke in a second. It has been over 30 years since the Federal Privacy Act was enacted and due to the vastly different methods in which information is stored and transmitted… it is time for an update. Was that explanation worth the play on words? Probably not.
Increasing accountability by having regular committees with members of the intelligence community, and regulating secret service access to open-source information like Facebook, Twitter. These recommendations are not new for the Federal government. I spoke to Saskatchewan’s Privacy Commissioner Gary Dickson, and he told me that recommendations like this have been happening since the acts adoption.
“It’s no surprise that [the laws] are ill suited to try and address the kinds of challenges now posed by big data” because there are technologies available now that were unheard of at the time of the act’s adoption, Dickson said.
Enshrined in our constitution is the idea that citizens have their own guaranteed right to privacy. So in ignoring these recommendations does this mean that the government now has access to everything you put on the internet? In theory, yes. But in practice, you’re probably not that interesting.
The secret services of Canada have algorithms in order to search for key phrases that are triggers that might be a security risk. And in searching for these phrases they cast a wide net which may include some personal information about Canadians.
If the government were to heed these recommendations, the effectiveness of such agencies like CSIS will be compromised. According to Jim Farney, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Regina, “privacy laws do slow down the process but it’s difficult to say definitively if that is a good thing or bad thing.”
Let me be clear. A government spying on civilians is not great. I would prefer people not know my stuff. The laws should be updated to better protect the privacy of Canadians in a digitized world but I don’t think any government will give up the power to monitor the internet because it’s their function to retain power. If your privacy is something very important to you, then turn that drive into political willpower. Write to your MP. But if you do, this has to be your opening line: “Some things like houses can comfortably last 30 years. Other things are like your 1991 Saturn and could use an update. The Privacy Laws in this country are…” You’ll thank me.