The ability to socialize with friends in private spaces without state interference is vital to citizens’ growth, the maintenance of society, and a free and healthy democracy. It ensures a zone of safety in which we can share personal information with the people that we choose, and still be free from state intrusion. Recognizing a right to be left alone in private spaces to which we have been invited is an extension of the principle that we are not subject to state interference any time we leave our own homes. The right allows citizens to move about freely without constant supervision or intrusion from the state. Fear of constant intrusion or supervision itself diminishes Canadians’ sense of freedom.
- Factum for Tom Le, in Tom Le v The Queen, Court File No. 37971
Honoured to be recognized by Access Now as a local champion for my work in safeguarding, protecting, and advancing digital civil liberties in Canada!
For many this may be a very enticing future. We can have it, but we must also find a way to know – in great detail, not just in summary form – what happens to our data once we share it with Google, and to retain some control over what it can track and for how long.
It would also help if one could drive through the neighbourhood in one of Google’s autonomous vehicles without having to log into Google Plus, the company’s social network, or any other Google service.
The European regulators are not planning to thwart Google’s agenda or nip innovation in the bud. This is an unflattering portrayal that might benefit Google’s lobbying efforts but has no bearing in reality. Quite the opposite: it is only by taking full stock of the revolutionary nature of Google’s agenda that we can get the company to act more responsibly towards its users.
I think that it’s critically important to recognize just what the regulators are trying to establish: some kind of line in the sand, a line that identifies practices that move against the ethos and civil culture of particular nations. There isn’t anythingnecessarily wrong with this approach to governance. The EU’s approach suggests a deeper engagement with technology than some other nations, insofar as some regulators are questioning technical developments and potentialities on the basis of a legally-instantiated series of normative rights.
Winner, writing all the way back 1986 in his book The whale and the reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology, recognized that frank discussions around technology and the socio-political norms embedded in it are critical to a functioning democracy. The decisions we make with regards to technical systems can have far-reaching consequences, insofar as (some) technologies become ‘necessary’ over time because of sunk costs, network effects, and their relative positioning compared to competing products. Critically, technologies aren’t neutral: they are shaped within a social framework that is crusted with power relationships. As a consequence, it behooves us to think about how technologies enable particular power relations and whether they are relates that we’re comfortable asserting anew, or reaffirming again.
(If you’re interested in reading some of Winner’s stuff, check out his essay, “Do Artifacts Have Politics.”)
Although some of the core supporters of that group are prone to violence and criminal behaviour, Catt has never been convicted of criminal conduct in connections to the demonstrations he attended. Nonetheless, Catt’s personal information was held on the National Domestic Extremism Database that is maintained by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit. The information held on him included his name, age, description of his appearance and his history of attending political demonstrations. The police had retained a photograph of Mr Catt but it had been destroyed since it was deemed to be unnecessary. The information was accessible to members of the police who engage in investigations on “Smash EDO”.
In the ruling the Court of Appeal departs from earlier judgments by mentioning that the “reasonable expectation of privacy” is not the only factor to take into account in determining whether an individual’s Article 8 (1) right has been infringed. In surveying ECtHR case law, the Court noted that it is also important to check whether personal data has been subjected to systematic processing and if it is entered in a database. The rationale to include consideration of the latter two categories is that in this way authorities can recover information by reference to a particular person. Therefore, “the processing and retention of even publicly available information may involve an interference with the subject’s article 8 rights.” Since in the case of Catt, personal data was retained and ready to be processed, the Court found a violation of Article 8 (1) that requires justification.
- Carolin Moeller, “Peaceful Protester’s personal data removed from extremism database”
The removal of Mr. Catt’s data from these databases is a significant victory for him and all those involved in fighting for citizens’ rights. However, the case acts as a clear lens through which we can see how certain facets of the state are actively involved in pseudo-criminalizing dissent: you’re welcome to say or do anything, so long as you’re prepared to be placed under perpetual state suspicion.
Right now, in Montreal, the very right to protest, that most fundamental right to freedom of expression, is under assault. If we give in, and stay home for fear of these preposterous tickets, we will have lost not just the battle but the war itself. Indeed, the worst part about these tactics is that they work. I know many friends who will no longer go to protests for fear of arrest and a ticket they cannot afford. What a sad state of affairs when the police bully and intimidate citizens out of exercising their right to criticize the government. So go to the demos, go to all the demos, and prove you will not let fear and intimidation win out. If you get a ticket, contest it. The legal resources to ensure you succeed are freely available. And no matter what you do, make sure to go to the demo on the 22nd of April, which I think should be branded as a manif in defence of our civil liberties. If there are enough people in the streets, the cops can’t do a thing. Small crowds are what allow these abuses.
When our police force denies that we have any right to peacefully express our dissent, there is no recourse but to fight tooth and nail to protect our rights. This is far too important an issue to let slide.
But first and foremost, Canada must get its own house in order. Thailand wasn’t the only country requesting that Google remove content; Ottawa did as well. What is most notable, and troubling, about Canada’s takedown requests is that an increasing number were not accompanied by a court order, but rather fell into Google’s category of “other” requests from the “executive, police, etc”.
This demonstrates that the government increasingly is bypassing formal and lawful processes in their attempts to get the compliance of private sector companies in their Internet censorship activities. Meanwhile, the government continues to resurrect Bill C30, despite widespread condemnation. The proposed electronic surveillance law would give the government unprecedented access to Canadians’ private online information without the requirement of a warrant.
If the Canadian government fails to respect freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and the rule of law in our own country, how can it expect other countries to do so in theirs?