Governments spying on their own citizens is probably something as old as governments, but it isn’t something that’s supposed to be happening in modern democracies.
At least, that is – not indiscriminately and with little discernible oversight.
Yet this is what a Canadian federal directive from August 2018, that has just been revealed under the country’s Access to Information Act, would like to see more of.
And it’s not about giving broader powers to collect personal data and keep it – deliberately or “inadvertently” – to just any agency – the goal of the directive is to allow Canada’s military intelligence to expand its activities in this regard.
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A parliamentarian committee dealing with national security and intelligence issues previously found that it was precisely the military segment of the spying community in Canada that has “one largest intelligence programs (…) and it gets little outside scrutiny,” MSN reports.
The directive states that the military should only gather personal data of citizens if this is “directly and immediately” related to a military matter. So far, so good.
However, the digital space – termed in the documents as “emerging technologies and capabilities” – provides governments, as ever, with ample opportunity to muddy the waters. Thus, the directive also instructs that, should the already vast surveillance activities result in “inadvertent” gathering of data – it is to be kept anyway, and if need be shared with other agencies.
A spokesperson for Canada’s National Defense echoed this rationale: the military does not collect data of citizens unless seen as a threat to national security – but if they happen to come across this data, they’ll take it, and keep it.
Needless to say, all this has civil rights advocates in Canada worried – specifically about “what it means when they collect inadvertent information,” as Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group’s Tim McSorley put it.
“We don’t know the scope or the degree to which Canadians’ information is being captured,” MSN quoted him as saying.
Not only the intent but also the timing of the Canadian plan isn’t the best. Privacy is now a big buzzword – if not always a verifiable, actual concern – that everyone from governments to tech giants likes to reach for.
This year, even the likes of Google and Facebook have started pitching themselves as champions of privacy – those who, for the most part, build their empires with little real regard for it.