With the recent revelation of the existence of LEVITATION by the CBC proving once and for all that Canada is not just a “junior partner” in Five Eyes cybersurveillance, but is deeply involved at all levels, we at PEN Canada have grown ever more concerned about the role the government plays in monitoring our digital lives. Because an election is coming this year, perhaps sooner rather than later, we feel that the time has come for straight talk from all who want the privilege of leading us, on an issue that is of paramount importance to all Canadians, whether they realize it or not.
At the moment, the government makes new rules about its cybersurveillance activity knowing full well that it faces no independent oversight if it breaks these rules.
At the moment, the government gets to make new rules about its cybersurveillance activity knowing full well that it faces no independent oversight if it breaks these rules. Doesn’t that amount to carte blanche for those watching us, to do whatever they want? Aren’t we leaving the fox to guard the henhouse? We need a better watchdog than the current one, a government-appointed official whose sole function so far has been to say that everything is fine and no laws are being broken. Clearly, this is one job description that needs to be rewritten.
Canadians also deserve to know something else: there is significant evidence that mass cybersurveillance doesn’t work. The CBC reports: “Last year, a Washington-based non-profit analyzed 225 terrorism cases inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and found that bulk collection of phone records by NSA had ‘no discernible impact’ on preventing acts of terrorism.” LEVITATION counts only two clear successes—one the discovery of a German hostage video, the other a document outlining hostage-taking strategy. The German hostage died months after the video was discovered.
How can you express yourself freely if you’re worried about who might be listening?
And in case you’re wondering what privacy has to do with freedom of expression, it’s very simple: How can you be expected to express yourself freely if you’re worried about who might be listening?