Category Archives: Security

Oh privacy, rest in peace


The assaults on our personal space, our thoughts – both grand and small – have become, in recent years, the principle battleground of democratic debate.

Do we deserve our privacy, or shall we surrender it to the onslaught of media? Do we expect full accountability from our elected leaders, or shall we give them a free pass even as their spy agencies harvest every morsel of information about us for uses not yet articulated?

We have become a “live-in-public” polity. Anyone who doubts this might cogitate for a while on the way mainstream celebrities (and their Twitter monkeys) manage their various images through social media.

Consider, for example, the strange case of Ashton Kutcher – a Hollywood actor of some fame and fortune. He reached out to his fans a couple of months ago to beg their support for his mindful campaign against the paparazzi that plague him and his loved ones.

According to a Fox News report in May, “Ashton Kutcher has taken to social media to blast news outlets for publishing paparazzi photos of his 7-month-old daughter, Wyatt. The actor publicly slammed publications on Twitter after photos emerged of a casually dressed Kutcher carrying his baby girl in his arms, with a clear view of her smiling face. The paparazzi pics were taken while Kutcher and partner Mila Kunis were visiting the seaside town of Carpinteria, Calif., with Kunis’ parents.”

Tweeted Mr. Kutcher: “Why is it so hard for publications to respect that I would like the identity of my child kept private for safety reasons?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you have 16 million followers and you can’t stop talking about yourself.

The actor’s dilemma mirrors our own. In a world where professional value becomes a commodity through personal revelation (even if the cry is for privacy) reason is antiquated. And what becomes antiquated becomes suspect. Suddenly, your business is mine, and mine is yours.

Naturally, you and I have never met, never shook hands, never looked each other in our bloodshot, media-savvy eyes. We’ve never actually conducted a private conversation about what really matters to either of us. We just tweet in series of 147 characters of callow, bland absurdities.

As we do, of course, the world is cloud-banking every stupid thing we say for only one reason: Our love of the confessional pyre, the altar of unsolicited solicitude, to which we happily supplicate ourselves, turns its cranks; and, in so doing, manufactures more ways to penetrate our secret spaces.

We claim our right to privacy in public even as we squander it, undermine it, and, finally, render it meaningless by opening our big, fat mouths about the utterly inconsequential just in time for the next crop of spin-doctors, operating on both private and state allowances, to turn our choice words against ourselves.

It happens all the time. Whole networks in the mainstream media are dedicated to unveiling the “larger” truth behind a pebble of personal information “leaked” to them, lest the pillars of democracy topple in the absence of some celebrity’s full disclosure about the style and shape of his underwear.

And, of course, just like Mr. Kutcher, we lap it up, even as we despise it.

In a Daily Mail Online piece from 2011, the actor “became the first Twitter user to reach one million followers. But, it seems, Ashton Kutcher has finally fallen out of love with Twitter. The 33-year-old actor handed over the control of his account to his management team.”

Really, who could have blamed him?

But, then, what’s stopping the rest of us?

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Fear and loathing in prime time


Canada, I sometimes worry, has become a bad sitcom in the American style – its elected leaders more interested in their Ward Cleaver-cum-Richie Cunningham vacuities than in their duties to office in what was once a great and global democracy of truly nourishing values.

Shall we now “Leave it to Beaver” in the evermore of “Happy Days”?

Pierre Blais, a former federal Tory minister of public safety, thinks that’s just fine if it means expanding the Government of Canada’s power to spy on its own citizens. In a “loose-lips-sinks-ships” sort of polemic, the new honcho of nation’s Security Intelligence Review Committee told the Globe and Mail in an exclusive interview last week, “Terrorists, they don’t have borders. When they decide to put a bomb somewhere – the railroad or in Parliament – they don’t care. They just do it. Governments have to adapt to that with their legislation.”

In fact, he assured his interviewers, “We know that CSIS sometimes has to be more intrusive. And I think the Canadian population accepts that.”

In the same Globe piece, the country’s spymaster, Michel Coulombe was explicit: “It could go into disrupting a financial transaction done through the Internet, disabling a mobile device. . .and tampering with equipment.”

Still, who watches the watchdogs? What, exactly, justifies the Conservative government’s new Bill C-51 and all of its paranoiac rhetoric, except, perhaps, a heartfelt determination to pitch the body politic back into a 21st-century version of Cold War mania?

Are we, in this country, so threatened by enemies both domestic and foreign that we are willing to succumb? Have we finally filled that prime-time slot of fear and loathing in our own lives that we once assuaged with frequent viewings of the “Beaver”, “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Love Boat”, “Lost” and, more recently and perniciously, the poverty-porn of reality TV?

If Mr. Blais is correct (and I suspect that he is in more ways that even he appreciates), we have become willing supplicants to an exaggerated tale of woe and wobbly logic in this fine land of ours.

Fact: Violent crime rates hover at a 40-year low; in fact, it’s safer to be alive in Canada now than it was when I was a teenager growing up in Halifax.

Fact: Gun-play across the nation is down, as are break-and-enters and physical assaults.

Fact: Marijuana use has not produced a generation of drooling idiots; the laws against it have merely swollen the ranks of the incarcerated in underfunded, poorly equipped penitentiaries where (guess what?) the young apprentice at the feet of the old, unreconstructed criminals in their midst.

As for domestic terrorism and foreign insurgencies, law enforcement authorities, and their political masters, will argue that the threat is both eminent and imminent. Naturally, though, they won’t articulate their reasons. Apparently, our best interests are protected as long as we remain utterly ignorant of our surroundings and environment (cue: “The Truman Show”), and the rights and freedoms we are constitutionally owed.

One of these is the right to know the truth of our government’s activities, with or without our consent. Another is the freedom from unnecessary scrutiny by public agencies that fully adore their sanctimonious pronouncements about what is, and is not, good for the rest of us.

Our finest hour might arrive when our elected officials finally decide that they actually live in the real world, and not in some facsimile manufactured, like a bad 70s sitcom, for the camera and the boobs who are glued to it.

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The new cone of silence


We, all of us, had begun to think that nothing we said, did or even felt was private. After all, doesn’t London, England, maintain the largest collection of closed-circuit television cameras in public spaces of any city in the entire world?

We had even begun to suspect that in our own hometowns on this side of the pond, we weren’t actually safe from the prying eyes of spooks and creeps in the employ of Canada’s secret services.

In fact, we’ve lived with the conviction that our lives have not been our own since the last episode of the X-Files, just in time for the first episode of the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney road show.

An entire generation of voters in North America has not only grown accustomed to having its personal information mined and consumed by complete strangers – it has come to welcome it.

As Daniel Newman, a technology journalist, wrote in Forbes Magazine’s online platform last year, “With social media users well over a billion and a growing mobile and wearable trends that puts us online almost around the clock, we are ever connected and endlessly sharing what seems like our every idea.

“This feeling of connectedness undoubtedly gives many a sense of community and happiness, as it is through the sharing of our everyday lives that we are able to garner the feedback we seek and the validity that we need.

However, if we are fooled, for even a moment, as to what all of this is really about – the desire to have us tethered without wires and connected without cost – then we are delusional. . .I, for one, can say that I have almost never read the privacy policy of an application I downloaded.”

Indeed, we may be delusional. But when, this week, the U.S. Senate reformed one of the signature Acts – introduced in the aftermath of the 9-11 catastrophe to curtail individual privacy rights – for the first time in more than a decade confusion suddenly became clarity.

“Reversing U.S. security policy that had been in place since shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks, the bill would end a system exposed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowdon in 2013,” a Reuters report stipulated. “A federal appeals court on May 7 ruled the collection of ‘metadata’ illegal. The new law would require telephone companies to collect and store telephone ‘metadata’ the same way that they do now for billing purposes. But instead of routinely feeding U.S. intelligence agencies such data, the companies would be required to turn it over only in response to a government request.”

Oh, well, fellow plebes and peons, at least it’s a start in the right direction.

The notion that the state – which eschews paying for anything that might actually improve the minds, moods and attitudes of the citizens who fund it ­– works for the people has been discredited in so many present ways and means. That the Obama Administration – so hopeful, so fundamentally feckless – has finally managed to push through a truly progressive piece of legislation is, frankly, a miracle of American politics.

Could such an epiphany materialize here, in the Great White North?

Currently, our putative whistleblowers remain underground. They don’t seek asylum in sketchy nations where the weather is even worse than Canada’s. They wait in silence, knowing that nothing they say or do is actually private. They, who do the government’s business, keep their heads down.

After all, doesn’t Ottawa maintain the second-largest collection of closed-circuit television cameras in public spaces of any city in the entire world?

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Move over RCMP. . .there’s a new kid in town


As the Harper government openly discusses its efforts to transform this country’s civilian spy agency from a strictly intelligence-gathering organization to an effective police force – imbued with all the powers of search, seizure and, if necessary, apprehension – it steadfastly refuses to speak plainly about its plans for the nation’s fighting men and women in some of the world’s most dangerous places.

According to a report this week in the Globe and Mail, the federal government’s new “anti-terrorism legislation, which was unveiled Friday (January 30), would give CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) the right to disrupt terrorist activity, such as by pulling suspected terrorists off planes or messing with their bank accounts. A judge would have to sign off on such actions ahead of time. The legislation would also make it easier to arrest people for promoting terrorism.”

This is a fair distance down the road from the agency’s embarkation point, articulated in the early 1980s and reiterated currently on the inveterate data-miner’s official website: “The Service’s role is to investigate threats, analyze information and produce intelligence. It then reports to, and advises, the Government of Canada to protect the country and its citizens. . .CSIS’ proactive role complements law enforcement agencies such as police forces, which investigate crime and collect evidence to support prosecutions in courts of law.”

Apparently, complementing law enforcement agencies is no longer enough. CSIS must now become one among that number.

Again, according to a Globe report, the new legislation would also, “criminalize the advocacy or promotion of terrorism (fair enough); lower the threshold for preventative arrest or detention of suspected extremists (uh-oh); relax the requirements necessary to prevent suspected jihadis from boarding a plane (hmmm); grant government departments explicit authority to share private information, including passport applications, or confidential commercial data, with law enforcement agencies (do tell); make it easier for authorities to track and monitor suspects.”

All of which raises natural questions about CSIS’s 30-year role coordinating and collaborating with actual cops.

Has it, or has it not, been doing its mandated job? And if the answer is, “no, it hasn’t”, then how much more success will it enjoy when its desk-bound intelligence analysts suddenly find themselves with upgraded badges?

“Good afternoon, ma’am, I’m agent Mulder. . .This is my partner, Scully. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

“No, Scully, I’m Mulder, you were Mulder last week (and besides she’s a he).”

“Sorry about that. . .Let’s start over.”

“Good afternoon, sir, I’m agent Scully. . .This is my partner, Mulder. . .We’d like to ask you some questions.”

And yet, even as Harpertown seeks to equip its spooks with new powers to reveal – and act on – the ‘truth’ about the alleged bad boys and girls in our midst, it has no compunction about withholding information about its own military actions abroad.

The recent deployment in Iraq, for example, was sold to Canadian citizens as a support operation to NATO. Not even Canada’s Chief of Defence, General Tom Lawson, is wagging that tail anymore. Speaking before a House of Commons’ committee last week, he stipulated that “we’re seeing an evolution of that mission.”

The evolution’s end being: directing drone strikes on Islamic militants, engaging directly in a shooting war with combatants and. . .well, comporting themselves in a way that not even the Americans are willing to embrace.

Or, as Stephen Chase of the Globe wrote last week, “The U.S. military says Canada’s military advisers are the only coalition forces it knows of that have engaged in firefights with Islamic State militants in Iraq and that American troops have not, to date, been authorized to direct air strikes from the ground as Canadians are doing.”

If this is the necessary work of our foreign force, so be it; but, then, why hide the policy behind weasel words, coarse deflection and transparent partisanship?

“This is really what we get from our opposition,” Mr. Harper told the Commons last week. “Every time we talk about security, they suggest that somehow, our freedoms are threatened. I think Canadians understand that their freedom and their security more often than not go hand and hand. Canadians expect us to do both, we are doing both, and we do not buy the argument that every time you protect Canadians, you take away their liberties.”

Sure, Father Canada, whatever you say.

After all, you will soon know what everyone in this vast, compromised democracy thinks and does.

The truth is out there.

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What’s another weasel word for ‘waterboarding’?


Oh, Dick Cheney; God, love you, man.

At least, you’d better hope the Almighty has a soft spot in his eternal, cosmic heart for ilk such as yours.

Down here, on planet Earth, we mortals wrote you off at about the time you insisted that forcibly pouring water down someone’s throat to the point of nearly asphyxiating him was not torture.

Indeed, you sly dog, you casually observed it was merely an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Why, it happens all the time. Right? Move along people; nothing to see here.

Earlier this week, the former vice president of the United States in the George W. Bush administrations of 2000-04 and 2004-08 (the world’s very own, live-action Darth Vader-Emperor Palpatine dynamic duo of the early 21st century) was at it again, defending, on major news programs in the United States, the indefensible.

Lending a hand to congressional Republicans in a co-ordinated attack on a scathing report by Senate Democrats on the CIA’s predilection for torturing people it suspected of being terrorists in the years following the 9/11 attacks on lower Manhattan and Washington, D.C., Cheney declared, “I would do it again in a minute.”

Naturally, he denied that what American intelligence officials were authorized to do to its detainees and prisoners constituted anything like torture, a claim that is almost as risible as his own definition: “Torture is what the al-Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques.”

There they are again, three of the ugliest weasel words of the modern age: enhanced interrogation techniques. The intelligence community, ever up for a twisted joke, actually slaps an acronym on them (EITs) as if to further distance the practices to which they refer from what regular folks generally understand to be torture

According to information contained in a 2005 Justice Department memo, obtained by The Associated Press last week, “EITs” included: abdominal slaps, attention grasps, cramped confinement, dietary manipulation, facial holds, facial slaps, insult slaps, forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, wall standing, wall slamming, water dousing and, of course, everybody’s favorite, waterboarding.”

None of which gave Cheney pause to reflect when he was in office; it still doesn’t.

During one news program on which he appeared, he seemed genuinely unfazed by a section of the Senate report which described the mistaken identity of a man who subsequently died at the hands of his interrogators:

“The problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end(ed) up back on the battlefield,” he said.

When pressed about findings indicating that as many as 25 per cent of those who were detained were innocent, he said, “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent. . .I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.”

And how did that work out for him?

According to the current director of the CIA, EITs didn’t actually get the job done as Cheney and his pals like to claim. At a press conference convened at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, last week, John Brennan stated: “Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”

“But,” he said (and it’s a mighty big but), “let me be  clear. . .We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees.”

In other words, “the cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is, in my view, unknowable.”

In fact, The Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper reported this week “More than a decade (ago). . .the U.S. military’s top lawyers were warning that ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were legally questionable, likely ineffectual and could expose American troops to criminal prosecution and torture at the hands of their own captors,”

So, then, the CIA’s EITs quite probably violated several specific human rights and, what’s more, they didn’t work.

Would it, I wonder, torture the world’s news media to turn their collective back the next time Dick Cheney comes running for an interview?

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Who’s your daddy, now?

Hello Big Daddy!

If we read our digital propaganda correctly, then we should all be over the moon after learning that a fresh day dawns on the global circuitry that tracks our every move, intentions and even aspirations.

Welcome, fellow plebes, to the era of big claims and big mouths – to the age of ‘Big Daddy’ (also known as Big Data), with all of its magnificent liens on our vanishing sense of privacy.

Mindless of any threat, existential or otherwise, Big Daddy’s acolytes were front and centre-stage this week in Saint John extolling the virtues of collecting, parsing, analyzing, and recruiting – in the service of capitalist enterprises and nosey governments – our personal information.

On the occasion of Big Data Congress II in New Brunswick’s port city, local show promoter Marc Fraser (executive vice-president of T4G) effused, “It’s about the phenomena that we have here in Atlantic Canada, which is being able to continually punch above our weight when it comes to technical capability and entrepreneurial capability.”

Not ready to be outmatched in the time-honoured craft of cliche production (reader note: no big data required for that particular exercise) T4G’s president Geoff Flood offered this bromide: “It’s all about understanding the opportunity to use Big Data to change the world, improve businesses and build opportunities right here.”

Not for nothing, but who are they kidding?

The phrase, ‘Big Data’, has been slinking around the edges of the Internet since before the George W. Bush administration declared war on the wrong Middle Eastern country in 2003 (thank you Big-Daddy CIA and NSA miners for completely missing the point of your 15 minutes of fame).

The fact is almost no one knows what to do with these petabytes of information on everything from my ridiculous love affair with slim jeans readily available at the Moncton outlet of The Gap to ex-spy-in-exile Edward Snowdon’s rather more substantial revelations about spooks, creeps and authorized assassins of world peace.

Still, the official, meaningless bafflegab spills from the mouths of the babes we elect to purportedly represent us with, at least, some modicum of intelligent reflection. Oh dear, what was that you were saying Premier David Alward to Big Daddy Congress Part Deux the other night? Something about “collaboration and co-ordination”, perhaps?

As it happens, that’s the last thing your audience wants. And unless you’ve figured out a way to use Big Data to rescue the province from its impending fiscal doom, it’s the last thing you should want either.

In fact, there is almost nothing about this phenomenon – this gargantuan belch of information collected and floating in the electronic stratosphere – that lends itself to fair, egalitarian or democratic purpose.

“Big data. It’s the latest IT buzzword, and it isn’t hard to see why,” writes John Jordan in an October 2013 edition of the Wall Street Journal. “The ability to parse more information, faster and deeper, is allowing companies, governments, researchers and others to understand the world in a way they could only dream about before.”

But, he says, (and it’s a big but), “Big data. . .introduces high stakes to the data-analytics game. There’s a greater potential for privacy invasion, greater financial exposure in fast-moving markets, greater potential for mistaking noise for true insight, and a greater risk of spending lots of money and time chasing poorly defined problems or opportunities. . .Unless we understand, and deal with, these challenges, we risk turning all that data from something that has the potential to enhance our organizations into a diversion, an illusion or a paralyzing turf battle.”

Or worse.

Consider Cindy Waxer’s reporting in Computer World a year ago. “Hip clothing retailer Urban Outfitters is facing a class-action lawsuit for allegedly violating consumer protection laws by telling shoppers who pay by credit card that they had to provide their ZIP codes – which is not true – and then using that information to obtain the shoppers’ addresses,” she wrote.

“Facebook is often at the center of a data privacy controversy, whether it’s defending its own enigmatic privacy policies or responding to reports that it gave private user data to the National Security Agency (NSA). And the story of how retail behemoth Target was able to deduce that a teenage shopper was pregnant before her father even knew is the stuff of marketing legend.”

Big Daddy, to satisfy your insatiable appetite, how creepy must our lives finally become?

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Big Brother’s eyes are everywhere

Birds of a feather?

Birds of a feather?

I summon a certain phrase whenever the world’s Internet-traveling tech companies assert their moral authority to protect their millions upon millions of customers from Big Government’s snoops and sneaks: something about foxes guarding henhouses.

In ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and on dozens of websites, Google, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo (call them the eight horsemen of the digital apocalypse) have announced a new consortium, the purpose of which is to pressure governments everywhere to stop the growing practice of warrantless and unaccountable spying.

That’s a little like asking a gossip to keep a secret. Nevertheless, here’s what they say: “We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

What’s more, and for their part, “We are focused on keeping users’ data secure –deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope. We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

All of which raises but one question: Do these 100th-of-a-one-percenters, these brilliant geeks who, in some cases, kissed off their Ivy League educations to make billions of bucks in the open market, seriously think we buy their pieties about personal privacy? This is all about business, pure and simple.

That’s what Google CEO Larry Page means when he observes that “the security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

In fact, the productive relationship between government R&D and the technology sector, has produced most, if not all, of the communications innovations of the past 75 years. That includes everything from the application software that makes your smart phone chatter on command to the Internet, itself. Separating these partners in this continuum of invention would be akin to extracting chlorine from a swimming pool.

What’s at stake is the integrity of Big Data – a jewell so profoundly valuable in the tech world that anything that might cause a public (i.e. consumer) rebellion against its collection and deployment in the service of capitalist enterprise must be quelled. Simply put: When Big Brother overreaches, he hurts the bottom line.

Technology writer, Katherine Arline had this to say in a piece for last month: “Telecommunications equipment maker Cisco Systems announced an anticipated 8 to 10 per cent drop in revenue for the current quarter, sending shares tumbling 13 per cent . . .Cisco said concerns about network security in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures fueled the decline.”

Specifically, Frank Calderone, the company’s CFO said he had seen “a significant increase in the ‘level of uncertainty or concern’ among international consumers. ‘I have never seen that fast a move in emerging markets,’ Calderone said. Cisco customers are concerned that the NSA has backdoors into network hardware from U.S. makers, and analysts think  that companies including IBM and Microsoft are also at risk. Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told Reuters that more U.S. companies are likely to be affected. ‘All the big U.S. IT companies are concerned,’ Lewis said. ‘But so far Cisco is bearing the brunt.’”

It may be true that the allegations against the National Security Agency – that it routinely and illegally snoops on average folks by extracting data from unwilling tech companies who must, nevertheless, comply with its edicts – are exaggerated.

But in an industry where reputations are everything and brand loyalty is paramount, perceptions are even more important than reality. Internet-traveling tech companies playing the role of public defender No. 1 is great spin.

Indeed, it might even work.

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All our spies have come in from the cold

The light of democracy is dimming

The light of democracy is dimming

Former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden’s suggestion that this country’s espionage establishment colluded, perhaps illegally, with its U.S. counterpart to spy on allied nations – in peace time, away from the mayhem of battle, during the G20 summit in Toronto – is troubling.

But no more than what appears to be a growing consensus of reaction in Canada, as we trip over the shards of our democracy to pat ourselves on the back for our newfound swagger: good, old guts and glory to the rescue.

“If it wasn’t for our laws, and police forces and military employed to enforce those laws, the world as we know it would implode on itself,” a letter writer to a recent edition of The Globe and Mail observes. “To be able to monitor and catch the bad guys, we have to know what they’re doing and thinking. Of course we are going to spy. The bad guys are spying on us.”

Against which, this corner of the peanut gallery offers no argument. Only a complete naif would suggest otherwise. The distressing bit comes in the next sentence: “The media should be praising Canada for allowing the U.S. to spy. How else can we keep the world sane and without violence?”

Once upon a time in this country and in others, polite company considered spying on one’s friends to be. . .well, impolite, especially if such surveillance was also explicitly illegal. (The Government of Canada, it should be noted, denies any of this sort of wrongdoing). The whole cloak-and-dagger business, while a necessary evil, wasn’t something about which to crow like a cockerel in heat.

We were proud of our diplomats who helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We were proud of our prime ministers, such as Lester Pearson who was instrumental in creating United Nation Peacekeeping. We were proud of our scientists, engineers, teachers, and environmentalists; of our clergy, philosophers and writers. From time to time, we were even proud of our politicians – those who were able to muster the courage to shatter the status quo in the interests of a more civil society.

We certainly weren’t proud of the means by which our clandestine operatives obtained the ends of their shadowy missions either abroad or at home.

Times, however, have changed. They have become more discernibly black and white, as the once vast grey zone of dialogue, discourse, negotiation and conciliation in politics has vanished as utterly as has the middle class in society.

Today, we we are forced to choose between good and evil, rich and poor, criminals and victims, strength and weakness, resistance and compliance, national pride and wobbly thinking in the loathsome salons of the liberal elite.

Today, in this country, loose, unapproved talk about defending the environment from the depredations of a careless commercial sector – once a splendid exercise in participatory democracy – is tantamount to treason, punishable by several lashes of a government official’s tongue.

The oil must flow as surely as the pipelines must be built. As for the safety and security of the communities through which we send our dirty crude, leave that to the men in charge. They know best.

Today, from this country, international affairs gets bundled and exported to the world as a byproduct of something called “economic diplomacy”.

Gone is the emphasis on poverty reduction, human rights, child welfare and disease control. Welcome a new, golden age of liberalized trade for Canadian companies seeking to plant their corporate staffs in emerging markets, including those of China and India, Russia and Brazil.

Through these adventurous small and medium-sized businesses, Canada will achieve the greatness it so richly deserves and could never hope to acquire under any other sort of government than one that truly understands the prideful heart that beats strong and true in the breast of all “real” Canadians – those who, let’s just say, do not vote for Hollywood-handsome, marijuana-smoking mop-tops.

In this fresh impression of the cosmos, Canada’s spy agencies are not cabals of itinerant villains; they are chambers of patriots and heroes, as long as the information they obtain about our “friends” continues to elevates the nation’s interest.

And, apparently, by any means necessary.

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Big Brother wants a blood test

The truth has gone to ground

The truth has gone to ground

The only aspect of Canadian Justice Minister Peter MacKay’s flirtation with the notion of sampling and storing the DNA of suspects to serious crimes is its undue caution. Why stop there, with the merely apprehended? Why not cast that genetic dragnet across the entire country, capturing the guilty and innocent, alike?

Somehow, you suspect, that’s an itch he’s just dying to scratch.

“I know there’s always privacy considerations,” he tells the Globe and Mail this week, though he says they are in the background. “It has to balanced in the bigger picture. But I think that, you know, the timing of the taking of DNA is something that could very well emerge in the future as another issue of importance.”

It’s a crying shame, he seems to be saying, that “right now we’re limited to taking it (DNA) on conviction. It could be expanded to take on arrest, like a fingerprint. . .I maintain that, you know, a genetic fingerprint is no different and could be used in my view as an investigative tool.”

Oh really, Mr. Minister?

Here’s what my fingerprints, on file with the RCMP, can tell the cops: My name and address. With this information, they can find me without too much trouble in the time it takes me to plunder my bank account en route to the car dealership.

On the other hand, according to a source in the Guardian not long ago, here’s what my DNA can tell them: The colour of my hair and eyes, my gender, whether or not I am an insomniac, how long I’m likely to live, whether or not I have a propensity towards obesity, the degree to which I am at risk of developing certain types of cancer, Huntington’s Chorea and Parkinson’s disease.

If I am an unwilling guest at one of Canada’s finer penal institutions, then I should properly expect to lose any right to privacy I might have imagined for myself. But if I have not been convicted of any crime – only arrested on suspicion of having committed an offence – what gives the state the prerogative to profile me in such exquisite detail and keep a record of this information until the sun goes nova?

As William Trudell of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence told the Globe, “It’s really sort of cataloguing the innocent. Until someone is found guilty, the presumption of innocence really has to mean something.”

In fact, Mr. MacKay is coming somewhat late to Big Brother’s most recent soiree. This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of law enforcement officials in 28 states to collect DNA from suspects who have not yet been charged of serious crimes. An item in states that “the 5-4 ruling overrules a state court determination that Maryland’s DNA collection law permits unconstitutionally invasive searches. . .Justice Antonin Scalia warns in a dissent joined by three of the court’s more liberal justices that the court’s reasoning would apply equally to someone accused of any crime or violation at all: ‘Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.’”

The implications have alarmed more than one American jurist. In a commentary, published by the Chicago Tribune last month, former Las Vegas district court judge Jackie Glass observed, “The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires warrants to be issued based on probable cause. This Maryland v. King decision will allow for warrantless searches to occur based on failed logic. Justice Kennedy and his majority owed American citizens a better justification. Using DNA for standard identification is unnecessary and makes no sense.”

Still, on one level, it makes perfect sense.

In the absence of true leadership, in the presence of failed social policy, politicians are always on the prowl for the enemy within. Now, with a handy DNA test, indiscriminately administered, they can prove that the enemy is us – guilty by association with the code written into our genes.

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Canada the war-friender?

Death in Dhaka...600 and counting

Death by unregulated guns…500-million triggers and counting


To the bemusement of many career diplomats and most human rights groups, standing apart – alone and aloof – has become the Canadian government’s preferred modus operandi to the United Nations.

In fact, one of the few truly substantial differences between the Tories in power and their Grit predecessors has been their unconcealed animus towards most things UN-related. The organization, they seem to believe, is broken, inefficient, hypocritical, duplicitous and needlessly bureaucratic. Worse, this cradle for the international community allows far too much license to rogue nations, and not enough to democratic, peaceful ones.

They have a point. But the federal Conservative regime would not be the first government in the world to question the value of its country’s membership. The organization is as flawed, or virtuous, as are its fellow states. Canada’s role and opportunity has always been to engage by setting a moral example – something which, until recently, it has been demonstrably willing to do.

The Harper government’s decision to delay signing the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which seeks to regulate international shipments of conventional weapons worth as much as $70 billion a year, is lamentably ironic. While it laudably pledges $3-billion pledge to improve the welfare of mothers and children around the world, the unfettered arms trade decimates the very people the Department of Foreign Affairs would otherwise help.

Even the United States, with its lock-and-load gun culture, has signed on to the Treaty, making it the 91st country to do so. “We are talking about the kind of export controls that for decades have not diminished one iota our ability in the United States as Americans to exercise our rights under the constitution,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of his nation’s decision last week. “This treaty will not diminish anyone’s freedom. . . .Make no mistake, we would never think about supporting a treaty that is inconsistent with the rights of Americans, the rights of American citizens to be able to exercise their guaranteed rights under our constitution.”

Ottawa’s position suggests it is not as certain about the safeguards protecting this country’s gun owners. According to the Globe and Mail last week, “Rick Roth, a spokesman for (Foreign Affairs Minister John) Baird, said Ottawa is still studying whether joining the accord would have consequences for Canadians. “It is important that such a treaty not affect lawful and responsible firearms owners nor discourage the transfer of firearms for recreational uses such as sport shooting and hunting.”

That’s fair as far as it goes. But while the federal government waits, the arms trade continues its vile business in some of the world’s poorest nations.

In his book, Public Corruption; The Dark Side of Social Evolution, Robert Neild of Cambridge University observes, “It has been estimated that there are now about 500 million small arms and light weapons in circulation in the world, one for every twelve people. Gone long ago is the time when we Europeans could subdue other continents because we had firearms and the local peoples had not. In 1999 it was reported that an AK-47 assault rifle could be bought in Uganda for the price of a chicken.”

Amnesty International states on its website, “War crimes, unlawful killings, torture and other serious human rights abuses have been committed around the world using a wide range of weapons, munitions and military and security equipment. These are often provided to perpetrators in almost unlimited supply, encouraging and prolonging unlawful violence. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, injured, raped and forced to flee from their homes as a result.”

Appallingly, says the organization, “Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children under 18. . .are recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and a variety of other armed groups.  Often they are abducted at school, on the streets or at home. Others enlist ‘voluntarily’, usually because they see few alternatives.”

Like it or not, the UN is the proper deliberative body through which to combat such turpitude.

Notwithstanding its distaste for the organization, Ottawa should set an example and ratify the Treaty.

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