It's been a busy few months on privacy issues here at OpenMedia. Our small team has been campaigning hard on your behalf to secure effective legal protections that safeguard the privacy of every resident of Canada.
Recently we've seen a number of disturbing stories come to light that underline just how important this campaign is. It can sometimes be difficult for everyday Canadians to see privacy as an issue that impacts their everyday lives -- when in fact the human consequences of privacy breaches can be immense.
Here are just a few concrete examples of Canadians who've had their lives turned totally upside down because of this government's privacy deficit.
1. ANDREW -- Toronto businessman blocked from travelling due to dropped accusation from 25 years ago
Andrew, a 42-year-old Toronto businessman, was on his way to a professional conference in the United States last year, when he was denied entry by a U.S. border guard at Toronto's Pearson airport. The reason will astound you - Andrew was told it was because of a DROPPED accusation from over 24 years ago. In 1990, while still in high school, Andrew was investigated but never even charged with possessing marijuana.
A record of the investigation was still kept on the police database, despite his never being charged with an offence. It appears that these sensitive private records were shared, without Andrew's knowledge or consent, with U.S. immigration authorities, resulting in devastating consequences to Andrew's professional career. Now he's unable to visit his many U.S.-based clients.
2. DIANE - Law-abiding Canadian has professional life undermined following privacy breach
Diane is one of over 200 Canadians who recently approached the Toronto Star to say their personal or professional lives have been ruined by police disclosures despite their never breaking the law. In Diane's case she was the victim of a false accusation a number of years ago. The charges were dropped but, despite this, police not only retained records on her, but shared them, without Diane's consent, with a potential employer. She says it took "many hours of anguish" to finally convince police to remove her record and she still lives in fear that these allegations will resurface and restrict her future career opportunities.
3. ELLEN -- Woman suffering from depression blocked from entering U.S. after her private medical records were handed to U.S. authorities
Toronto author Ellen Richardson was all set for the holiday of a lifetime last year -- a Caribbean cruise for which she had paid $6000. She was shocked to be denied entry by a U.S. border guard at Pearson Airport. The U.S. official told her this was because she was hospitalized for depression in 2013. Ellen was, understandably, astounded -- and now Ontario's privacy watchdog is looking into just how her sensitive medical information was handed to U.S. authorities and whether the police may have been involved.
4. LOIS -- among over a dozen Canadians living with mental illness blocked from entering the U.S.
Ellen Richardson isn't the only Canadian to be denied entry to the U.S. due to a private medical condition. Toronto's Lois Kamenitz found herself in a similar position, and was blocked from entering the U.S. following a suicide attempt many years prior. In fact, over a dozen Canadians complained to Ontario's Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office after Canadian authorities shared their private medical information with U.S. officials. This was done without the consent or even knowledge of the individuals affected -- often, the first time a victim learnt that their privacy had been breached was when they were interviewed at U.S. border control.
So, where does this leave us?
These are just a few examples, but they lay bare the human cost of Canada's privacy deficit. There's a common thread to all these cases: government authorities are collecting personal information on hundreds of thousands of Canadians and then handing it over to third parties, including, most concerningly, U.S. authorities who are not subject to Canadian privacy law.
As Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian starkly points out, "this ruins lives". And, according to the Toronto Star, there are over 420,000 Canadians who have their information in a police database despite never being convicted -- meaning you or one of your loved ones could easily be among the next victims.
Responsibility for this careless government attitude to our private data rests squarely on the shoulders of Justice Minister Peter MacKay. Despite the real harm being inflicted on Canadians, Minister MacKay remains oblivious to calls to improve our privacy laws. Instead he's moving in the opposite direction, continuing to push reckless online spying legislation (Bill C-13) despite opposition from three quarters of Canadians and a historic Supreme Court ruling that suggests much of the bill is unconstitutional.
Sadly, Minister MacKay's lack of respect for Canadians is symptomatic of a government with a terrible track record on privacy issues. They continue to resist calls to take common sense steps to rein in Canada's out-of-control spy agency CSEC -- an agency that just 8 per cent of Canadians trust with their private information, according to a recent poll. Journalist Glenn Greenwald recently revealed that CSEC was caught red-handed collecting hugely sensitive information about law-abiding Canadian air travellers, and storing our private information in giant, insecure databases to be shared with their U.S. partners at the NSA.
When will the government finally start listening to Canadians and make sure we all have the protections we deserve? You can keep up the pressure by pledging your support for the Privacy Coalition at OurPrivacy.ca and by sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper at OpenMedia.ca/Letter. With privacy shaping up to be a key issue in the upcoming federal election, it's never been more important to speak up.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
According to documents given to Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier, the federal government asks telecom for data on subscribers 1.2 million times a year. That’s one request for every 30 Canadians, every year. Most of those requests don’t involve a warrant, and in 2011 telecoms complied with at least 784,000 of those requests.
The federal government spent more than $50 million buying high-security communications technology from the U.S. National Security Agency, according to data unearthed by Vice magazine. There have been at least 73 contracts for telecommunications equipment procured through the NSA over the past decade.
According to documents given to NDP MP Charmaine Borg under an access to information request, some telecoms are building databases of customer information specifically for police use. A Competition Bureau document noted the bureau had "accessed the Bell Canada Law Enforcement Database" 20 times in 2012-2013.
At least one Canadian telecom is evidently giving the government unrestricted access to communications on its network, according to documents from Canada’s privacy commissioner. The unnamed telecom says the government has the ability to copy the traffic on its communications network, then mine the copied data to determine what sort it is.
Critics say Bill C-13, the “anti-cyberbullying bill” the Harper government is promoting, is essentially a back-door for a host of measures that would allow greater government intrusion into private lives. The bill would provide legal immunity to telecoms that hand over customer data without a warrant, and would lower the standard under which police can get warrantless data. Digital rights group OpenMedia says the bill “would let ... authorities create detailed profiles of Canadians based on who they talk to and what they say and do online.” Pictured: Justice Minister Peter MacKay
Industry Minister James Moore's Digital Privacy Act is being billed as “protection for Canadians when they surf the web and shop online,” but critics say it amounts to a wholesale threat to the privacy rights it ostensibly aims to enshrine. Bill S-4 would allow internet service providers to share customer data with any organization that is investigating a possible breach of contract, such as a copyright violation, or illegal activity. Thus, private corporations, and not just the government, could obtain personal information about you. The bill would also eliminate court oversight of file-sharing lawsuits, which critics fear would lead to the sort of “copyright trolling” seen in the U.S.
An estimated 90 per cent of Canadian Internet traffic moves through the U.S., which means that Canadians are being caught up in the NSA’s surveillance dragnet, experts say. Data passes through “filters and checkpoints” and is “shared with third parties, with law enforcement and of course intelligence agencies that operate in the shadows,” says Ronald Deibert, head of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Documents obtained by the Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press suggest that Canada is engaged in mass warrantless surveillance. The documents show then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed a ministerial directive in November, 2011, authorizing the re-start of “a secret electronic eavesdropping program that scours global telephone records and Internet data trails – including those of Canadians – for patterns of suspicious activity.”
Canada’s electronic spy agency, CSEC, will see its budget skyrocket to $829 million in 2014-15, from $444 million this year. Pictured: CSEC's new $1.2-billion headquarters in Ottawa, currently under construction.
According to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place To Hide,” Canada took some $300,000 to $400,000 from the NSA in 2012 to develop surveillance capabilities. However, that money amounts to a drop in the bucket given CSEC’s $829 million budget for electronic surveillance. Pictured: Glenn Greenwald
The CSEC was in charge of developing an international standard for encryption keys to transmit data securely. But according to documents obtained by the New York Times, CSEC handed over control of the standard to the NSA, allowing the U.S. surveillance agency to build back-doors that allowed it to crack the encryptions. As a result, the NSA was able to crack data transmissions that internet users thought were secure.
The Harper government allowed the U.S. to carry out widespread surveillance in Canada during the G20 meeting in Toronto in 2010, according to documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Few details of the espionage were released, but it appears this is a sort of rotating circle of spying: Canada helped the U.S. and U.K. spy on the 2009 G20 conference in London.
Follow David Christopher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dchristopher_bc