by John Wunderlich
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”1
It would be exceedingly easy to fall in to the techno-libertarian trap and think that (a) privacy is dead and that (b) personal information is a commodity and therefore should be controlled by markets. Both statements are factually wrong and are ideologically deeply rooted in the neo-liberal state. Privacy is a fundamental requirement for people to freely communicate, associate, and organize.
It would also be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that information technology and electronic communications are inherently progressive, because they are relatively cheap and allow activists to communicate widely at a low cost. This is the ‘Internet routes around censorship’ fallacy.
Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have tried to pass ‘lawful access’ legislation since at least late 2005.2 Lawful access is shorthand for legal rules to allow police investigators to gain access to subscriber and other information held by telecommunications and Internet Service Providers without a warrant. Despite repeated demands for proof to show how requirements for a warrant and due process have prevented an investigation, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have been able to demonstrate a need for this type of legislation.
Readers may recall former federal Conservative Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews bleating “you’re with the child pornographers or with us”. That was about Bill C-30 in 2013. This year’s version of the Bill is disguised as an anti-cyberbullying piece of legislation, C-13. When this persistent attempt to gain new legal powers to look at Canadians’ communications is combined with the Edward Snowden revelations about Canada’s participation in the Five Eyes spying program, the conclusion is inescapable. Whatever differences they might have, the Liberals and the Conservatives are agreed that all Canadians are suspects until proven otherwise.
The cumulative affect of such state surveillance is to create a ‘chilling affect’ where people are unwilling to express opinions outside the prevailing view of the day. This stifles dissent, inhibits activism, and ultimately narrows the perceived choices that people have to protest or organize.
Progressives should not mistake privacy as a ‘liberal’ civil right. Privacy, including the right to communicate and to organize free from the prying eyes of the state, is fundamental to the building of a social movement. Violations of privacy, such as the authorities knowing to whom you talk and e-mail (the so-called metadata we hear so much about) enable the state to block, disrupt, or ultimately destroy the lives of everyone caught up in the surveillance sweep.