Canada’s Privacy Commissioner has released an excellent report, highlighting some of the disturbing trends that he sees as ongoing. Rather than paraphrase, I will quote one of the best sections extensively:
It is my duty, in this Annual Report, to present a solemn and urgent warning to every Member of Parliament and Senator, and indeed to every Canadian:
The fundamental human right of privacy in Canada is under assault as never before. Unless the Government of Canada is quickly dissuaded from its present course by Parliamentary action and public insistence, we are on a path that may well lead to the permanent loss not only of privacy rights that we take for granted but also of important elements of freedom as we now know it.
We face this risk because of the implications, both individual and cumulative, of a series of initiatives that the Government has mounted or is actively moving toward. These initiatives are set against the backdrop of September 11, and anti-terrorism is their purported rationale. But the aspects that present the greatest threat to privacy either have nothing at all to do with anti-terrorism, or they present no credible promise of effectively enhancing security.
The Government is, quite simply, using September 11 as an excuse for new collections and uses of personal information about all of us Canadians that cannot be justified by the requirements of anti-terrorism and that, indeed, have no place in a free and democratic society.
I applaud both the Commissioner’s comments and his willingness to take such a firm and public stance. As I’ve said dozens of times now: terrorists are dangerous, but governments fundamentally much more so. They can cloak themselves in secrecy and are imbued with a level of power that permits them to do enormous harm, whether by accident or by design. Compared with the excesses and abuses committed by governments – Western democratic governments included – terrorism is a minor problem.
I recommend that all Canadians read the report in its entirety. I found the link via Bruce Schneier’s excellent security blog.