Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Con Regime and the Shadow of Big Brother

I'd like to believe Canada's spy masters when they tell me they're not spying on Canadians. I'd like to believe I'm still living in a democracy and not a budding police state. 

I'd like to think that I'm not being tracked like a criminal or a terrorist, for having used the free Wi-Fi at an airport.

But I must admit I find all of this extremely unconvincing. 

The head of Canada's communications surveillance agency defended its use of metadata Monday and argued a test using Canadian passengers' data — revealed by CBC News last week — didn't run in real-time and wasn't an actual operation.

"We weren't targeting or trying to find anyone or monitoring individuals' movements in real time. The purpose of it was to build an analytical model of typical patterns of network activity around a public access mode," Forster said

And this REALLY hard to believe:

The spy chief said the agency also uses metadata to ensure it isn't inadvertently directing investigative efforts at a Canadian phone number or IP address. The agency is supposed to stick to foreign intelligence, not domestic.

For firstly, what does real-time have to do with it? When they can use their "analytical model" to retrace your movements TEN days before you arrive at the airport.

Secondly, while it's true that so-called metadata is data about data, it can easily be used to put a name, a face, and an address on the information collected. So it is a gross invasion of privacy. 

And the only reason that it is not illegal is because it hasn't been collected on a mass scale until relatively recently. We haven't been told about it or asked for our opinion. And our laws are out of date.

Thirdly, while I fully recognize the need for good intelligence in this dangerous world, when I examine the "analytical model," I see evidence of a spy apparatus that is potentially out of control. (PDF)

Or at the very least suffering from an excess of zeal. For if you give the spooks new toys they WILL use them.

And if you don't draw the line you could end up in some Orwellian state, where a government uses the information to intimidate its opponents. Like the thuggish Ukrainian government is doing right now. 

Two weeks ago in Kyiv, an unsigned text message flashed onto the cellphones of people in the vicinity of fighting between demonstrators and riot police: “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.” Local phone companies denied sending the message, and it would seem to have originated from government as a means of intimidating protestors with the threat of reprisal.

And since I live in Harperland, I haven't the slightest doubt that the same thing could happen here.

For how could anyone trust a brutish authoritarian like Stephen Harper, who would declare anyone who opposes his plans to turn us into a reactionary petro state, an Enemy of the State?

Is known to keep a long Enemy List. 

And has appointed so many spy watchdogs with ties to him and Big Oil.

While the head of the watchdog committee overseeing Canada’s intelligence agency is under attack for also being a lobbyist for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, it turns out that half of the other Harper government appointees keeping an eye on the spies also have ties to the oil business.

You know, I realize that privacy isn't what it once was, not when we sell our own so cheaply.

But there is something truly disturbing about the way these disturbing revelations are greeted by so many Canadians. 

Government snooping on digital communications, which is a front-page issue in much of the world, is greeted with yawns in Canada.

And how even a chilling report from the federal privacy commissioner elicits only indifference.

Her report “drew crickets in Ottawa,” The Globe’s Josh Wingrove wrote. Even before it came out, Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, took note of “the shameful Canadian silence on surveillance.” In the U.S., he blogged, “the surveillance issue has emerged as a significant political issue since the Snowden leaks and the U.S. government has recognized the need to address it.” 

But here? Please feel free to picture a member of the government, gaze averted, whistling a show tune.

Because in all of this spooky darkness one thing remains blindingly obvious.

If we trust the Cons to do the right thing. And we don't draw a clear line between security and democracy.

We really could wake up one day in the shadow of Big Brother.

In a scary country we don't recognize...

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e.a.f. said...

cell phones were a huge bonus for authoritarian governments. this little test by the Canadian spy agency has given them what they need. If anyone thinks they won't be using it full time, I've got a bridge for them to buy.

Simon said...

hi e.a.f....not just cell phones, computers, everything in our digital world. I've actually written a hopefully funny post about how I don't trust my cell phone, which I may publish soon. But yes, as I said in the post, if you give the girls and boys new toys, and you don't draw the line, or have good watchdogs, they will use them to the max....