The Return of Cybersnooping


Why is J. Edgar Hoover on your phone?

I don’t know, he’s on everybody else’s, why shouldn’t he be on mine?

That exchange, between Colonel Mustard and faithful butler Wadsworth, in the wonderfully kitschy 1985 movie interpretation of Clue, has never been more relevant, as world leaders and spy chiefs do their best Hoover impersonations.

While Canada may have heaved a big sigh of relief when C-30, Vic Toews’ famed cybernooping bill, was fed into the meat grinder in 2013, the fight to break the digital locks on your personal computer is far from over.

And it’s not just the Conservatives’ doing.

A slew of stories have come out in the last two weeks, revealing the absurdity of digital surveillance, and limits of security.

For starters, two pieces of legislation that have been starting their slow march through Parliament — C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act; and S-4, the Digital Privacy Act — will, barring their misnomers, fundamentally expand the ability of government and business alike to peep into your call records, text messages, search history, location, download history and, well, god knows what else.

But it’s not like this a new thing, they’re just getting better at it.

The first move to give government cybersleuths access to your personal data was the Liberals’ Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, also known by the more catchy title of PIPEDA (which, depending on your purview, is pronounced either PIP-ED-A, PEEP-EDA, PIP-PETA, or some variation therein.)

With PIPEDA, voluntary disclosure of personal data without a production order became, effectively, legal.  That has led the government to request the data of millions of Canadians from telecommunications firms, social media sites, and elsewhere.  In hundreds of thousands of those cases, the corporations acquiesced and handed over users’ data wholesale.

While you can argue that the door is already open, C-13 takes it right off its hinges.  The bill — which is supposedly cyberbullying legislation — grants immunity to any firm that discloses that information to the government.  You know, just to make sure.

But it doesn’t stop there!

S-4 makes it so that data disclosure isn’t just Ottawa’s racket.  No no, once it passes, corporations will be able to share your personal information — without ever telling you, or a judge, or the government — with other corporations.

Privacy experts see one obvious reason for that: to allow copyright holders to go after pirates.

Adding Crisco to this slippery slope is the fact that Ottawa is improving the information flow South of the border, most recently via its adherence to FATCA — a piece of American legislation that forces Canadian banks to fork over the financial information of those living here, with ties to the States.

And we haven’t even touched on the Five Eyes agreement — the full language of which is still classified — which facilitates top-secret data sharing between Canada, America, England, New Zealand and Australia.  While Canada is not supposed to be shipping our data out to foreign spy palaces, the NSA also wasn’t supposed to be ease dropping on its own citizens, and CSEC wasn’t allowed to intercept Canadian communications.  So paranoia might be justified, here.

Maybe it’s all a futile game.  As I reported last week, it was the NSA that made our secured phone lines, anyway.  So maybe all expectations of privacy are gone.



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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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