Civil-liberties advocates and privacy watchdogs are demanding the Canadian government answer questions about its spying programs.
OpenMedia.ca executive director Steve Anderson told the Straight that it is almost totally unknown what sort of information the Canadian government is allowed to collect on its citizens, how data is gathered and stored, who it is shared with, and how decisions related to those activities are made.
“We need answers on what the scope of all of this is,” he said in a telephone interview. “We deserve to know if our sensitive information is being collected and stored in databases and why.”
OpenMedia.ca has joined a number of groups, including Amnesty International Canada, the Council of Canadians, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, in calling for the Government of Canada to reveal the parameters of its intelligence operations.
On June 10, the Globe and Mail revealed that “extensive surveillance and wiretapping” was authorized in secret by the Liberal government in 2005, and that those measures were renewed by the Conservatives in 2011. A separate report noted that while the U.S. and U.K. have legislative oversight of intelligence gathering, Canada does not.
Described by the government as “metadata” surveillance, the program is operated by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the country’s equivalent to the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).
The week of June 3, the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers exposed massive NSA operations that have for years collected metadata on billions of telephone calls, emails, and communications over social media websites.
Reacting to news of the NSA program, called PRISM, B.C. Civil Liberties Association director Micheal Vonn described it as “population-based dragnet surveillance”.
“The ramifications of this are so vast it is hard to even know where to begin,” she told the Straight. “We’re getting to the place, honestly, where it’s ludicrous to talk about paranoia. There are no [conspiracy] theories, there are only facts.”
Both the Canadian privacy commissioner and the B.C. privacy commissioner did not make anyone available for interviews.
Anderson emphasized that the public should not be thrown off by governments’ focus on metadata, arguing that it can lead to a detailed profile of anybody monitored.
“It can be used, not only to pinpoint who you are, but with whom you meet, with what frequency and duration you meet them, and at which locations,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything more invasive than this kind of information. What we’re talking about here is secret spying on our private lives that can affect anyone at any time. And we don’t even know about it.”