Stat­scan bid for per­sonal data a symp­tom of grow­ing dis­dain for pub­lic good

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - ED­I­TOR'S NOTES

ALONG WITH COM­ING UP with new ways to spend/ waste/line their own pock­ets with the money they take from you whether you like it or not (i.e. taxes), the cur­rent bunch in Ot­tawa want to know what you do with the rest, forc­ing the manda­tory dis­clo­sure of our spend­ing habits to gov­ern­ment bu­reau­crats.

The lat­est saga in the road to our worse-thanany­thing-Or­well-coulde­ver-have-imag­ined fu­ture sees Sta­tis­tics Canada look­ing to force the banks to pro­vide it with all of our debit, credit and other spend­ing records.

In a pi­lot project, Stat­scan wants the data of some 500,000 Cana­di­ans. Not just their spend­ing pat­terns, but all the raw, non-anonymized data, which would in­clude names and other iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion of those cit­i­zens un­lucky enough to be scooped up in the ini­tial go-round. You can bet, of course, that the pol­icy would soon ap­ply to ev­ery Cana­dian. And you can bet that in­for­ma­tion would be shared with other in­ter­ested par­ties ... say, the tax­man.

An even safer bet is that the in­for­ma­tion would be hacked, breached or oth­er­wise re­vealed by some act of bu­reau­cratic in­com­pe­tence, de­spite as­sur­ances to the con­trary. Such ex­am­ples of mess­ing the pri­vacy bed have been com­mon­place in the gov­ern­ment and Stat­scan specif­i­cally.

A com­ment on the story posted in the Globe and Mail of­fers the kind of reper­cus­sions that should be the norm for in­com­pe­tence and hor­ri­ble ideas.

“If they can give me some good ex­am­ples of how the in­for­ma­tion will be used for pol­icy that will ben­e­fit Cana­di­ans, and they can guar­an­tee that my in­for­ma­tion is se­cure, then I’m will­ing to agree with this. When I say guar­an­tee, I mean that this chief statis­ti­cian re­ceives the death sen­tence if any of this pri­vate in­for­ma­tion is stolen,” writes one wellinten­tioned wag.

In re­fer­ring to Anil Arora’s bid to in­vade our col­lec­tive pri­vacy, the poster makes an in­ter­est­ing point about ac­count­abil­ity. In the ideal world, Arora’s sugges­tion would be grounds for im­me­di­ate dis­missal and ban­ish­ment from the sec­tor. (Arora’s pre­de­ces­sor, Wayne Smith, re­signed when the gov­ern­ment was forc­ing Stat­scan to use the Shared Ser­vices Canada sys­tem that con­sol­i­dates the data used by gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, a cen­tral­iza­tion that puts data se­cu­rity at risk. No such prin­ci­ples in play now, how­ever.)

In­stead of fir­ing Arora, Justin Trudeau backed up the re­quest, prov­ing he too has no re­gard for our col­lec­tive pri­vacy.

We would be much bet­ter off if he shared the sus­pi­cions of an­other bu­reau­crat, fed­eral Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner Daniel Ther­rien, who last week launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Sta­tis­tics Canada plan.

On this front, the op­po­si­tion has the right idea, grilling the gov­ern­ment in Ques­tion Pe­riod and call­ing for the plan to be dropped.

“Cana­di­ans have a big prob­lem with the gov­ern­ment hav­ing real-time data on how they go about their daily lives,” said Con­ser­va­tive deputy leader Lisa Raitt in the House. “If some­one goes to Tim Hor­tons, the gov­ern­ment knows we were there. If some­one goes to the gro­cery store, in­stantly the gov­ern­ment knows they are there. This is not right.”

Trudeau again failed to stand up for Cana­di­ans, in­stead be­lit­tling the crit­ics, who have it right on this one.

We are well-ad­vised to fear gov­ern­ments tak­ing away our pri­vacy. Leg­is­la­tion in­creas­ingly has re­mov­ing your rights as its pri­mary goal. But they’re not the only ones putting us at risk: we’re often our own worst en­e­mies.

Through the likes of Face­book and Twit­ter, we’re lay­ing our­selves bare to the world.

Face­book, like many In­ter­net sites, ex­ists to har­vest in­for­ma­tion, sell it to ad­ver­tis­ers and tar­get you with per­son­al­ized ads. Track­ing is the norm, as is col­lect­ing as many de­tails as pos­si­ble of what each of us does on­line. There’s noth­ing neu­tral about most of it: this is not just a so­ci­ol­ogy study, though, of course, it’s that too.

Leav­ing aside is­sue of why ex­actly peo­ple feel com­pelled to post the upto-the-sec­ond minu­tia of their lives, there’s a dan­ger of what you post be­ing used against you. Po­lice have culled through so­cial me­dia feeds, par­tic­u­larly pho­tos and videos, to track par­tic­i­pants in protests and vi­o­lent acts such as ri­ots. They’ve also used tech­nol­ogy to re­cover stolen goods and the not-very-bright thieves who post the items for sale us­ing on­line sites.

That’s an ob­vi­ous peril, brought about by, well, stu­pid­ity.

More in­sid­i­ously, au­thor­i­ties rou­tinely use and abuse elec­tronic surveil­lance. Gov­ern­ments are spy­ing on you. Some­where along the line, your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion – your emails, phone calls and dig­i­tal like­ness cap­tured on video – has been scooped up and stored away for fu­ture use and abuse.

There’s only one rea­son for this. No, it’s not about na­tional se­cu­rity. Or even your se­cu­rity. It’s so that they can con­trol you. Well, mil­lions of yous. The surveil­lance state isn’t about keep­ing the bad peo­ple out, it’s about keep­ing those in­side un­der wraps, with no es­cape.

Sti­fling dis­sent and ex­er­cis­ing con­trol are the de­faults for all au­thor­i­ties ... not just au­thor­i­tar­i­ans.

Oh, this is all couched in the lan­guage of in­creased safety, draw­ing heav­ily on ter­ror­ism rhetoric. Our cur­rent gov­ern­ments aren’t the first to take au­thor­i­tar­ian steps – that’s been go­ing on for decades – but it cer­tainly has been ea­ger to take ad­van­tage of the post-9/11 frenzy, join­ing the U.S., UK and other nom­i­nal democ­ra­cies in claw­ing back hard-won rights.

Many gov­ern­ments in

“It was a brave, imag­i­na­tive deal that has given North­ern Ire­land 20 years of peace, but it is now at risk.” Gwynne Dyer | 6

the West have been quick to foster a cul­ture of fear, al­low­ing them to im­pose laws that would have been un­think­able be­fore 9/11 and to spend vast sums of money on mil­i­tary, po­lice and se­cu­rity pro­grams that have en­riched the cof­fers of a few at ev­ery­one else’s ex­pense.

With each new mea­sure that in­creases video, phone and In­ter­net surveil­lance, over­rides the ju­di­cial process and cre­ates new en­e­mies through wars, we edge a lit­tle closer to the kind of dystopian state Or­well, Hux­ley and count­less oth­ers have warned us about.

Cer­tain types have al­ways had the urge to spy on peo­ple; in the post-9/11 world, the para­noid and dic­ta­to­rial have found new ways to cur­tail pub­lic free­doms. Their at­tempts to play on cur­rent fears have many prece­dents – think of Mc­Carthy­ism and the state po­lice of hun­dreds of op­pres­sive regimes.

In­for­ma­tion gath­ered by Stat­scan will hurry us along a per­ilous path. As with all cur­rent surveil­lance, mis­use will be ram­pant. Throw in a lack of data se­cu­rity and over­sight and we quickly see the per­ils be­come even greater. The gov­ern­ment won’t pro­tect you, as it’s the big­gest of­fender. Of­fi­cials are just count­ing on us to be so dis­tracted by mind­less en­ter­tain­ment, self­ies and pho­tos of our lunches to pay at­ten­tion to the evil they do.

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