|Montreal, February 1st, 2003 / No 118
The Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, tabled his 2001-2002 Annual Report to Parliament on January 29. In a news release, he issued a "solemn and urgent warning" that the Federal Government is on a path that threatens to wipe out key privacy rights and, with them, important elements of freedom as we know it.
Here are the key points made by the Commissioner:
"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 have never once raised privacy objections against a single actual anti-terrorist security measure...
"Specifically, I am referring to: the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency’s new “Big Brother” passenger database; the provisions of section 4.82 of Bill C-17; dramatically enhanced state powers to monitor our communications, as set out in the “Lawful Access” consultation paper; a national ID card with biometric identifiers, as advanced by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre; and the Government’s support of precedent-setting video surveillance of public streets by the RCMP."
"The CCRA’s database introduces the creation of personal information dossiers on all law-abiding citizens for a wide variety of investigative purposes. Section 4.82 of Bill C-17 requires, for the first time, de facto mandatory self-identification to the police for general law enforcement. The “Lawful Access” paper advocates the widespread monitoring of our communications activities and reading habits. A national ID card would remove our right to anonymity in our day-to-day lives. The RCMP’s video surveillance constitutes systematic observation of citizens by the police as we go about our law-abiding business on public streets."
"Now I am informing Parliament that there is every appearance that governmental disregard for crucially important privacy rights is moving beyond isolated instances and becoming systematic. This puts a fundamental right of every Canadian profoundly at risk. It is a trend that urgently needs to be reversed."
"The situation is made all the more worrisome by the fact that the Government is doing all this in blatant, open and repeated disregard of the concerns that it is my duty to express as the Officer of Parliament mandated to oversee and defend the privacy rights of all Canadians... If the Government can, with impunity and without provoking the strongest response from Parliament, simply brush aside the Privacy Commissioner’s warnings and do as it pleases, then privacy protection in this country will be progressively weakened, and worse and worse intrusions will be inevitable."
"Regrettably, this Government has lost its moral compass with regard to the fundamental human right of privacy."
"If someone intrudes on our privacy – by peering into our home, going through the personal things in our office desk, reading over our shoulder on a bus or airplane, or eavesdropping on our conversation – we feel uncomfortable, even violated. Imagine, then, how we will feel if it becomes routine for bureaucrats, police officers and other agents of the state to paw through all the details of our lives: where and when we travel, and with whom; who are the friends and acquaintances with whom we have telephone conversations or e-mail correspondence; what we are interested in reading or researching; where we like to go and what we like to do."
"A popular response is: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” By that reasoning, of course, we shouldn’t mind if the police were free to come into our homes at any time just to look around, if all our telephone conversations were monitored, if all our mail were read, if all the protections developed over centuries were swept away. It’s only a difference of degree from the intrusions already being implemented or considered."
"We must guard against falling prey to the illusion that wholesale erosion of privacy is a reasonable, necessary or effective way to enhance security. We must guard against the demonstrated tendency of the Government to create new databases of privacy-invasive information on justified, exceptional grounds of enhancing security, and then seek to use that information for a whole range of other law enforcement or governmental purposes that have nothing to do with anti-terrorism – simply because it's there. And we must guard against the eagerness of law enforcement bodies and other agencies of the state to use the response to September 11 as a Trojan horse for acquiring new invasive powers or abolishing established safeguards simply because it suits them to do so."
"Even with the help and support of my provincial and territorial colleagues, other privacy advocates and many thoughtful members of the news media – to all of whom I am profoundly grateful – as an ombudsman I do not have the power to stop what the Government is doing in its unprecedented assault on privacy. That power lies in Parliamentary insistence and public outcry. It is my hope that these will be exercised with the greatest urgency."
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