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Canadian academics, privacy groups issue statement against mass spying


In Canada this week, a number of academics have become signatories to a statement calling upon governments to reign in mass surveillance in Canada.

Known as the Ottawa Statement, the document acknowledges that Canada is now “entering an age of Big Data and ubiquitous surveillance” and that “governments and private corporations routinely collect and sort massive amounts of personal data for multiple reasons from national security to marketing”.

Over 35 leading scholars and 19 organizations have signed on in support.The statement takes offence to the fact that “Canadian privacy and data protection laws and regulations are regularly bypassed, undermined or broken, and are inadequate for dealing with information and privacy rights in the age of big data and ubiquitous surveillance”.

As BiometricUpdate.com reported earlier this month, a major report on surveillance in Canada was released which found that surveillance in Canada is expanding, mostly unchecked, into every facet of life. The Ottawa Statement therefore calls upon all levels of government to fully respect the constitutional right to privacy.

The Statement calls upon government agencies to fully disclose the legal definitions of the terms employed for surveillance, the kind of data they gather and provide full justification for all surveillance and data gathering.

The Ottawa Statement also calls upon governments to publicly acknowledge all secret international security treaties, agreements and memoranda that require the sharing of personal data, affect free movement and personal security, or place Canadian state surveillance in the service of other sovereign states, international agencies or the private sector.

Professor David Murakami Wood, the Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies at Queen’s University, said: “Canada is deploying ever more surveillance in the name of safety and security, but the end result is discrimination, the reduction of privacy and the chilling of free speech. We need to stop and take stock of where Canada is going and if it is the kind of place that we would want to live in.”

The Ottawa Statement is the result of consultation by experts, many of whom volunteered their time and expertise. Its release follows a series of revelations about how the government is undermining privacy while conducting warrantless surveillance on a mass scale. The Federal Privacy Commissioner revealed there were 1.2 million breaches of Canadians’ privacy in 2011. In the vast majority of these cases, telecom providers are handing over private customer information to the government without a warrant and with no judicial oversight. The federal government has also proposed a series of legislation that would grant legal immunity to telecoms who hand over customers’ private information without a warrant and that would allow telecoms to hand over their customers’ sensitive information to private sector agencies, including U.S.-style copyright enforcers. The government’s spy agency CSEC was even caught red-handed spying on thousands of law-abiding Canadian air travelers, and even tracking their movements for weeks. And plans to eavesdrop at airports and border crossings were placed on hold when they were discovered by the press.

“No one wants to live under the microscope of government surveillance, that’s why Canadians are so fed up with the outrageous invasions of privacy being perpetrated by their government,” said OpenMedia.ca Executive Director Steve Anderson, head of Canada’s major privacy and online rights group. “The Ottawa Statement sets out high-level recommendations to rein in government surveillance, and safeguard the privacy of every resident of Canada. We now need to translate these goals into effective pro-privacy legislation in Ottawa. Unpopular out-of-control spying is going to cost taxpayers billions of dollars and Canadians simply aren’t going to stand for it.”

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