Syndicated

A national public inquiry should be set up to make sure governments and private corporations don’t compromise the privacy of the people they collect information on, a Canadian surveillance expert says.

Professor David Murakami Wood, an associate professor of sociology at Queen’s University in Kingston and Canada research chair in Surveillance Studies, joined other academics and privacy activists in issuing a seven-part statement last week that called for stricter privacy provisions and stronger controls on law enforcement and other agencies that engage in surveillance.

In an article published on the iPolitics web site, Prof. Murakami Wood tells a Canadian Press reporter that the precise nature of the process isn’t the point.

“We have no particular opinion on what kind of a process, as long as it’s open and accountable,” he said. “But that kind of thing has to happen, it’s about time. We need to start taking this seriously at a national level.”

According to the statement, there are three key privacy issues that need to be addressed:

  • the huge amounts of data governments and corporations collect for a range of reasons, from national security to marketing;
  • extensive targeting of individuals and groups “on grounds of race and ethnicity, political and religious views, social class, age, gender, sexual preference and disability”;
  • “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.”

The statement, titled “Ottawa Statement on Mass Surveillance in Canada,” calls for the launching of “a full, transparent and participatory public process… to create a comprehensive legal framework for information and privacy rights and freedoms, built on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and acknowledging the United Nations’ reaffirmation of privacy as a fundamental human right.”

The statement also calls for all levels of government to fully respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms including the right to privacy, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and security against unreasonable search and seizure.

The statement advocates that all proposed changes to information and privacy rights be openly debated, that the extension of ‘lawful access’ regimes allowing government agencies to collect and store personal data without judicial permission be halted, and that the powers of provincial and federal privacy commissioners “should be commensurate with the quasi-constitutional status of privacy law.”

The statement also demands that security, intelligence, policing and border agencies must be brought fully under proper legal regulation, judicial authorization, transparency and democratic accountability. In particular they must be required to disclose fully the legal definitions of the terms employed for surveillance, the kind of data they gather and the full justifications for surveillance and data gathering.

“We’ve got to start opening these things up,” Murakami Wood told Canadian Press. But he’s not optimistic.

“What I think will happen is that the government will completely ignore most of this as long as it can. This is not a government that listens.”

Organizations supporting the statement include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, Amnesty International Canada, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, the Privacy and Access Council of Canada, Privacy International and the North American Association of Independent Journalists.

The full statement can be viewed here.

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