A year ago the British newspaper the Guardian began publishing revelations from Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, the American electronic spy agency.
Since then through news services Snowden has revealed the secret electronic sweeping of data done by a number of governments including Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSEC).
Regardless of whether you think Snowden is a hero for pulling the covers off of questionable, though possibly legal, activity, or a turncoat for divulging state secrets, there is no doubt he has provoked debate in Western countries about the lengths to which governments can intercept communications without – or even with – a court order.
These range from direct calls for CSEC to be reined in to complaints about the Harper government’s current legislation to give law enforcement agencies the ability to ask service providers to hold onto data without a court order.
OpenMedia.ca is part of a campaign by an organization called Fight for the Future which says mass electronic surveillance by governments and police without court orders is illegal. Rogers Communications has now made public some reservations about legislation before Parliament. The Harper government counters that it wants access to metadata, and that the interception of actual communications is always done with a warrant.
Whether you agree with Ottawa that metadata is just like public information in a telephone book (except it isn’t public), a full discussion of the nitty gritty of surveillance hasn’t been held yet. Undoubtedly security agencies don’t want to give away their secrets.
But it doesn’t only involve government. The private sector also has rights and obligations when it comes to personal data. It, too, should be a vocal part of the debate.