The Surveillance Society Is Already Here

Canadians often look at intrusive, anti-privacy surveillance in other countries, and at things like the NSA and Patriot Act in the United States and think we are above that. But it is becoming apparent that Canada is just as bad. We need to do better than this and move the pendulum back towards individual rights and freedoms, and away from a surveillance society that does very little if anything to actually protect us.

For example, it recently came to light that the Communications Security Establishment, or CSE, Canada’s equivalent of the NSA, monitors and stores emails sent to Canadian government agencies.

This kind of surveillance is usually justified as being necessary to deal with terrorism and threats to national security, and its effects are downplayed by comments like its just metadata, or Canadians aren’t targeted. But there does not seem to be any evidence that all this surveillance and collection actually prevents anything bad from happening. Metadata is every bit as personal, private, and informative as the data itself. Who is targeted does not change the fact that personal information on citizens is being collected and retained, and that this information has the potential to be abused and used for undesirable purposes.

Mathew Ingram puts it well in an article in the Globe entitled We can’t accept Internet surveillance as the new normal.

The only good news is that the ongoing revelations about the nature and type of spying – largely because of Edward Snowden – are creating a growing public backlash, and tech companies are working to make it harder to intercept communications. Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill currently in the hearing stage is a case in point, which has attracted a huge amount of criticism – both over a lack of oversight, and as to the intrusiveness and potential abuse of authority that could result.

See, for example, this Huff Post article entitled Edward Snowden Warns Canadian To Be ‘Extraordinarily Cautious’ Over Anti-Terror Bill, and Michael Geist’s article entitled Why The Anti-Terrorism Bill is Really an Anti-Privacy Bill: Bill C-51′s Evisceration of Privacy Protection 

There is even a website dedicated to stopping the bill.




  1. David Collier-Brown

    Regrettably, this kind of surveillance leads directly to real moral and legal hazard for members of a government that have permitted it to start.

    As our American cousins quickly found out, letting J. Edgar Hoover run their FBI made it a job-threatening move to say anything uncomplimentary about Mr. Hoover, much less try to rein him in. It was the elephant in the room for years, until he finally died.

    The truism that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and the degree of power possessed by surveillance agencies led to the observed danger to U.S. legislators, and also to courts or to any body who could be harmed by a surveillance agency.

    The question for Canada today is really one of whether the courts and the citizens can force our so-called “security services” to stop, or whether they have already captured the legislature and cabinet, and can do what the will no matter what the citizenry thinks.

    Another question, for us and the rest of the world, is do our constitutions allow our Courts to help our citizens to stop this kind of “capture”. Is criminality under the supervision of a secret court constitutional?

  2. When I tried to click on the link to the website “dedicated to stopping the bill” Internet Explorer told me it had a security certificate that had been issued for a different address.

    My version of Internet Explorer is out of date and has been saying a lot of such things lately.

    Yours Sincerely,
    Alan E. Dunne