Experts Corner: Privacy & Access Q&A with Steve Anderson

September 25th, 2015

What is the biggest issue in privacy facing Canadians today?

The biggest privacy issue facing Canadians today is the mass collection and sharing of their data, without their knowledge. We are living in the digital information age, which has immense benefits for us. Information is readily available at our fingertips, and we can communicate with people around the globe in an instant. However, we are so quick to embrace new tools and technologies, that we often fail to recognize what the costs of these tools really are.

Governments are collecting as much of our data as possible, and storing it for future use. We don’t know what is being collected, or how long it is being stored.

Everyone is a potential suspect, which puts the very principles of our democracy under threat. Of particular concern is the recently enacted Bill C-51 which endorses the disclosure of our personal information to over 17 government agencies and institutions as well as foreign governments. Thankfully experts, business leaders and nearly 300,000 Canadians (at http://KillC51.ca) have spoken out against this reckless legislation. It will hopefully be repealed soon.

 

In your opinion, how will the increasing reliance on technology and all things digital affect Canadians, and how will these changes affect our privacy?

It has already affected us, and i think it’ll take a long time for us to really realize the true scope of this impact. There are great benefits — imagine not having Wikipedia to answer your questions about the world? Try to meet people in a public place without a cell phone. How did we used to find our way through a new city without GPS?

The information and communications (not to mention scientific, etc.) capabilities that we have now are incredible, even compared to 10, or 20 years ago. As we enter the Internet of Things, where all of our technologies – fridges, doors, lights, thermostats – are connected, our privacy is at even greater risk as we embrace these new technologies to make our lives easier. The fundamental issue is whether or not we will rein in government surveillance and data collection or allow unaccountable monitoring of our privacy lives. The privacy deficit in Canada is the result of a democratic deficit.

 

If you could give the Canadian public one piece of advice on how to protect their privacy, what would it be?

Remember that privacy is a right; not something that you need to justify. But you need to care. The most dangerous threat to our own privacy is apathy. If we don’t care about protecting our own personal information and communications, we have already given up. As our government is rampantly increasing surveillance on its own citizens, we have a choice: we can give in and accept the consequences of living without any privacy, or we can engage with policy makers to ensure we fix Canada’s privacy deficit.

While ultimately we must rein in dragnet government surveillance, there are a number of tools and resources online that can help you take your digital privacy into your own hands, like www.resetthenet.org, EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defence, or Tactical Tech’s Security in a Box. But the most important thing is to make privacy an issue that extends beyond just you, or me, or other individuals. This is a matter of public interest. Privacy should be a matter of public discussion, and something that we hold our government accountable for.

 

If you were part of Canada’s youth today, how would you create positive change or lead by example in the fight against cyber bullying and the misuse of social media?

Cyber bullying and the misuse of social media is an incredible challenging to growing up in today’s digital culture. One of the most powerful things we have seen in combatting this issue is when people speak up in defence of one another. One of the most dangerous, and effective actions that makes cyber bullying possible is complacency; the bystanders who are willing to sit by and watch the events unfold without intervening.

Victims of cyber bullying can feel incredibly isolated and alone. When you speak up and let them know that they are not alone, and that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable, it can go a long way. Organizations that facilitate online dialogues can set an example by ensuring guidelines for safe discussion. Behaviours can be normalized; when people see cyber bullying all the time, it becomes normal. But in the same way, standing up for victims and against cyber bullies can also become normalized.

 

What is the future of privacy?

Right now we are at a critical junction when it comes to the future of our digital privacy. Earlier this year, the Conservatives introduced and rammed through Bill C-51, reckless and dangerous legislation that gives the Canadian government and its agencies immense powers to spy on us — its own citizens — without a warrant, oversight or accountability. The unchecked powers granted through this dangerous bill are pitting the government against its own citizens. However, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have spoken up against this immense violation of our rights at www.KillC51.ca

Protecting our privacy from unnecessary government intrusion is becoming an increasingly valued individual right, and if enough of us speak up now, we can change the course of privacy to create an Internet that is safe, secure, and allows us the privacy that we are entitled to.

 

What are you most looking forward to at the Privacy and Access 20/20 Conference in Vancouver, BC in November?

The entire conference looks great to me but I’m especially looking forward to hearing from the Privacy Commissioners and the Right To Be Forgotten panel.  The Right to Be Forgotten is fascinating subject because emotional conceptions of privacy can lead to fundamental extra-judicial restrictions on free expression and interference with basic technology that makes the web work.

 

 

Steve Anderson - Founder and Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca

Steve Anderson is the founder and Executive Director of OpenMedia.ca. Steve is an open Internet advocate and commentator. His writing has appeared in numerous local and national print and online publications such as The Tyee, the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and the National Post. Steve is a contributing author of the CCPA book The Internet […]

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