In this National Post article, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said lots of things I was glad to hear. Many of them echoed our press release of January 17, which was timed to coincide with Barack Obama’s speech to Americans about NSA surveillance of ordinary American citizens. Shouldn’t Canada’s prime minister have been saying something to Canadians, too? Plenty of people happen to think so. Ms. Cavoukian is one of them. I’m glad to hear she agrees. But why didn’t she mention, as we did, that it’s not the Canadian government we have to worry about?
Ms. Cavoukian feels that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) should ask for a warrant before it eavesdrops on anyone in Canada. Of course it should. But it won’t matter in the slightest whether it does or not. In fact, it won’t even matter whether the CSEC surveillance takes place or not. The Americans will have already done it for them, and will have gladly shared the information with the Canadian government… because this is what we do for them, all the time.
I’ve been pounding this drum loudly and longly for a while now, and yet for some reason I feel no one sees the significance: as outlined in a blog post by Professor Avner Levin on the PEN Canada website in July of 2013, Canada and the US have an information-sharing agreement that allows us to spy on each other’s citizens and then share the data. This means both governments can easily circumvent those pesky rules that prohibit them from spying on their own citizens. No one cares about spying on foreigners, after all. In fact, everyone probably believes that’s a good thing. As John Stewart said, paraphrasing U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, “Nations be spyin’, yo!”
Sure they be. That’s what nations do. But who is supposed to protect a nation’s citizens from being spied on? Its government. Who else? Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening. The very entity that is supposed to be defending us from espionage is actually encouraging it. It’s treating our privacy, and our freedom, and our dignity, as nothing but a not-particularly-valuable token in an endless game of international intelligence-swapping. This, in my opinion, is just as much a crime as the surveillance itself.
The Canadian media should be ashamed of itself for having failed to screech as loudly as humanly possibly about Levin’s explanation of how things really work. Every Canadian should know about this, and they shouldn’t have to dig to find the information, either. The current government ought to be ashamed of its complete lack of a response to PEN Canada and every other entity who has asked for a public explanation of the revelations by Edward Snowden. And Ann Cavoukian, though her heart is in the right place, should be asking much tougher questions of the government.
As should we all.