Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine one’s life without the Internet. It has become a powerful tool that helps to work, study, communicate, purchase goods, spend leisure time, and perform many other activities. Moreover, as the globalization trend grows more powerful, millions of people connect via social networks, making their personal information public. Many platforms like Facebook allow users to customize their privacy settings to control the extent to which data shared. However, the actual amount of personal information collected by various agencies is rather hard to evaluate.
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Canada is one of the countries that perform online surveillance of their citizens, which is regulated by local acts. However, they possess a range of shortcomings that allow defining acceptable measures differently depending on the case. Other states have developed better solutions to deal with the issue that increase the level of individual privacy. Their example may be used by Canadian officials to enhance the existing legislation to ensure that Internet users have their civil rights balanced with social good.
Data Collection in Canada
Many countries have developed systems of surveillance of their citizens targeted at detecting potential criminal activities. They include collecting information shared on the Internet to predict threats to society. Canada is among the countries that use this method to increase the domestic security level. Various governmental agencies analyze all types of data, either voluntarily disclosed or collected by online platforms as a part of their functioning.
National security is the primary cause for such an activity, and the country’s officials often speculate on this topic while trying to enforce new legislation regulating the sphere. For instance, the murder of a Canadian soldier and the attack on the Parliament in 2014 has become a reason for introducing Bill C-51, which has been developed as an anti-terrorism measure (Geist, 2015). It has granted the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and other official agencies the right to enhance the method for sharing information between them. Such initiatives must be balanced with legislation like the Privacy Act to ensure that the fundamental right of individuals to keep their information undisclosed is guaranteed.
Security systems in Canada do not collect everything users do or post on the Internet as it would take too much storage space. Instead, the so-called metadata is analyzed, which provides the fact of an activity rather than its context. The government’s wish to control and predict crimes on the country’s territory is understandable, especially when the society is troubled by the news of mass attacks in other places and is willing to give up a part of their privacy in exchange for peace.
Both government and business are interested in collecting personal information claiming it will benefit users. The former uses national security grounds for this purpose, speculating on the people’s fear of terrorist attacks, mass murders, and other crimes. The shooting in 2014 mentioned above became one of the excuses for developing technology for mass spying on citizens. It gives an opportunity for the police to access data from cell phones without attaining permission from a court (Kari, 2017). Moreover, there are no formal obstacles for security agencies to use information shared publicly for investigation purposes.
This also seems like an opportunity for corporations, which trade consumer data on various markets, neglecting the privacy’s status of a human right (Spiekermann, Bohme, Acquisti, & Hui, 2015). Even Internet search engines are nowadays a part of the general issue associated with the topic. For instance, services like Google are supposed to delete personal information upon requests in results, autocomplete, and other algorithm-based functions (Karapapa & Borghi, 2015). However, it is not always possible, especially if details about an individual become a part of media coverage.
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Caring for social good is the primary answer that government has when it comes to explaining mass surveillance. The violation of ethical principles does not seem to draw enough attention from Canadian officials. One of the most popular excuses is that only metadata is used, which does not allow to identify a person behind it. However, it may be done indirectly, since even some anonymizing programs may still leave a chance to disguise a user (Bowles, 2018). Thus, the ethical issue here is that the government is not sincere with its citizens about the extent of surveillance, and people do not know how their data can be used in the future.
The issue with ensuring national security is that the methods used by the government are not effective. In his article, Bruce Schneier discusses the change in the behavior of people who know that they are under surveillance (2018b).
Real extremists will not discuss their plans on Internet platforms if they know they are being watched. At the same time, people with no criminal background or intentions will also be careful about sharing ideas that are not currently supported in society. As Schneier marks, this leads to social stagnation due to the lack of space for experimenting with thoughts (2018b). While trying to protect citizens from mass attacks, the Canadian government intrudes in private lives of all citizens.
Foreign Experience and Solutions
Nowadays, Canada may use some of the examples from foreign countries on how to approach security goals more ethically. For instance, there are several states in the U.S. that have upgraded their legislation associated with personal information. Vermont and California allow users asking private companies about such things as types of data shared or security breaches (Schneier, 2018a). While the requirements are developed for corporations, it may become a draft for including those provisions in the Canadian legislation like the Privacy Act.
However, it is the EU that has currently become the place with the most advanced laws regarding the topic. The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is a law that became effective on 25 May 2018 (“Guide to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR),” 2018). Some of the most important features that can be borrowed by Canadian officials are the stress on consent, the clear definition of sensitive data, an opportunity for users to make decisions regarding their information, as well as others (Bowles, 2018). The provisions are important in several ways, as they create an opportunity for a better understanding between companies and individuals.
Nowadays, there are technologies that help the Canadian government to acquire massive amounts of information about citizens. While all of them comply with the existing legislation, certain practices undermine the ethical code of not interfering in one’s private life. Instead of pushing people to self-censor their online activities, Canada must provide opportunities for them to become more powerful as users by offering to give their consent or withdraw from some steps.
Bowles, C. (2018). A techie’s rough guide to GDPR. Web.
Geist, M. (Ed.). (2015). Law, privacy, and surveillance in Canada in the post-Snowden era. Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press.
Guide to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). (2018). Web.
Karapapa, S., & Borghi, M. (2015). The power of the algorithm. Web.
Kari, S. (2017). The new surveillance state. Canadian Lawyer. Web.
Schneier, B. (2018a). Data protection laws are shining a needed light on a secretive industry. The Guardian. Web
Schneier, B. (2018b). Surveillance kills freedom by killing experimentation. Wired. Web.
Spiekermann-Hoff, S., Bohme, R., Acquisti, A., & Hui, K.-L. (2015). The challenges of personal data markets and privacy. Electronic Markets, 25(2), 161-167.
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