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Canadian Privacy Commissioner – Anti Terrorism laws invade privacy


Privacy v Big Data – round 2

Daniel Therrien is Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The debate over the federal government’s new antiterrorism bill is raising profound questions about the tension between privacy and security.

Most Canadians would agree that terrorism represents a growing threat and that we must respond with appropriate national security measures when new threats arise. But at what cost?

In my view, Bill C-51, in its current form, would fail to provide Canadians with what they want and expect: legislation that protects both their safety and their privacy. As proposed, it does not strike the right balance.

The scale of information-sharing between government departments and agencies proposed in this bill is unprecedented. The new powers that would be created are excessive and the privacy safeguards proposed are seriously deficient.

All Canadians – not just terrorism suspects – will be caught in this web. Bill C-51 opens the door to collecting, analyzing and potentially keeping forever the personal information of all Canadians in order to find the virtual needle in the haystack. To my mind, that goes too far.

This is really about big data, which relies on massive amounts of information that can be analyzed algorithmically to spot trends, predict behaviours and make connections. The implications for privacy are serious – especially when we are talking about the highly sensitive information Canadians entrust to their government.

The legislation would allow for Canadians’ personal information to be shared if it is deemed “relevant” to the detection of new security threats. That’s an extremely broad standard that suggests the bar has been set far too low.

In this way, the bill would provide 17 federal government agencies with almost limitless powers to monitor and profile ordinary Canadians, with a view to identifying security threats among them.  The end result is that national security agencies would potentially be aware of all interactions all Canadians have with their government. That would include, for example, a person’s tax information and details about a person’s business and vacation travel.

While the potential to know virtually everything about everyone may well identify some new threats, the loss of privacy is clearly excessive. In a country governed by the rule of law, it should not be left for national security and other government agencies to determine the limits of their own powers.



Claps!  Well said.

Privacy is far more important than Anti Terrorism laws.  How come?  Privacy is the bedrock of democracy.  Without privacy laws we become that old cliche a “police state”.  If you consider “martial law” a vote winner, then support Anti Terrorism laws… and be “terrorised” by your own security forces.    Were the East Germans delighted with their police state?  Did you grow up dreaming of emigrating to East Germany? No?  Why not?  The answer to that question is why the privacy commissioner has come down on the security forces like a tonne of bricks.

Privacy must win out against Big Data and Anti Terrorism laws.

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