Tag Archives: Ann Cavoukian

Lest we forget our rights in the Internet age



My human nature abhors a snoop, unless he would be me. I am as compelled to conceal most details of my admittedly humdrum life as I am to blow the lid off someone else’s potentially dangerous cache of secrets. 

This is why, when it comes to privacy in the age of the Internet, I do not worry overmuch about irreconcilable urges. Everyone, it seems, has them.

Earlier this month, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that a Spanish guy does, indeed, possess the “right to be forgotten” in cyberspace, just as he had argued, setting a precedent that could spell profound implications for privacy advocates and free-speech supporters, alike. 

According to an online news item in the Guardian, “In what could be a landmark case for internet privacy, a European court has ruled that Google must amend some of its search results. . .The test case. . .was brought by a Spanish man, Mario Costeja González, after he failed to secure the deletion of an auction notice of his repossessed home dating from 1998 on the website of a mass circulation newspaper in Catalonia. . .

(In) the advisory judgement. . .individuals have a right to control their private data, especially if they are not public figures.”

The Guardian piece goes on to report that “More and more individuals are claiming they have a ‘right to be forgotten’, particularly when the internet pulls up personal information which may appear one-sided or unfair.”

For its part, Google characterized the ruling as “disappointing” and indicated it would take its time “analysing the implications”.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was simply gobsmacked. 

“(This is) one of the most wide-sweeping internet censorship rulings that I’ve ever seen,” he told BBC Radio 5 last week. “If you really dig into it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’re asking Google. . .you can complain about something and just say it’s irrelevant, and Google has to make some kind of a determination about that. That’s a very hard and difficult thing for Google to do – particularly if it’s at risk of being held legally liable if it gets it wrong in some way.”

Moreover, he said, “Normally we would think whoever is publishing the information, they have the primary responsibility – Google just helps us to find the things that are online. . .I would expect that Google is going to resist these claims quite vigorously. I think they would be foolish not to because if they have to start coping with everybody who whines about a picture they posted last week, it’s going to be very difficult for Google.”

Still, if some authorities think it’s perfectly okay to require search engines like Google to scrub the past clean on demand, others seem determined to obtain access to the unfiltered mausoleums of information that represent the virtual lives of nearly three billion IT-savvy earthlings. 

The Government of Canada, for one, is doing its level best to shine daylight on two bills (C-13 and C-31) that would expand the snooping powers of police. According to a report in the Globe and Mail last week, these controversial pieces of legislation will “give police and other law-enforcement officials new powers to request and monitor the private data of Canadians, despite objections from privacy watchdogs.”

Where is, these watchdogs wonder, our ‘“right to be forgotten”?

In a letter, earlier this month, to Conservative MP Mike Wallace, chair of the Commons justice committee, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian stated, “The time for dressing up overreaching surveillance powers in the sheep-like clothing of sanctimony about the serious harms caused by child pornography and cyberbullying is long past.”

In her own statement last week, British Columbia’s privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, advised the feds to “separate the provisions addressing cyberbullying from those that extend law enforcement powers,” arguing that “any proposed increase to those powers must be critically examined and vigorously debated.” 

She added: “It is up to government and law enforcement agencies to make the case to Canadians as to why increased police powers are necessary.”

Canada’s various privacy commissioners and the likes of Jimmy Wales may argue interminably about which is more dangerous to a healthy democracy: Too much of an individual’s personal information concentrated hands of a powerful few; or not enough accurate information about an individual’s actions available to the great, unwashed masses.

The good news is, perhaps only, that the debate is far from settled. 


Tagged , , , ,

The Internet of Things’ nosy, new tech


It is an indisputable fact of modern life that even the fiercest defender of personal privacy will trade the juiciest morsel of intel on himself for the latest item of cool consumer tech – as long as said tech is connected to the vast, remorseless Internet.

This is, in a nutshell, the essential dialectic of our human nature in the 21st century: our contradictory urges and impulses that find nearly perfect expression in the exquisitely instrumented age of greed.

In this context, I sometimes wonder who Ann Cavoukian thinks she’s reaching when she complains about the shadowy doings at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), where spies toll the electronic highways and byways for tidbits about their fellow citizens.

“Technology allows our every move to be tracked, collected and catalogued by our governments,” Mr. Cavoukian, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner writes in a commentary published yesterday in the Globe and Mail. “Yet, while our U.S. neighbours are debating the future of phone and Internet surveillance programs, our government is maintaining a wall of silence around the activities of (CSEC). This silence is putting our freedoms at risk.”

She is, of course, utterly correct, and I applaud her determination to tear back the veil that hides the snoops, creeps, plotters, conspirators, crooks, crackpots and incipient blackmailers from plain view.

Then again, what else would I say? I’m a hopeless paranoid who believes that former National Security Agency analyst, and latent whistleblower, Edward Snowdon is actually a red herring and that the truth – whilst still out there – is worse than you can possibly imagine.

Most people are more sanguine than I about the nakedness with which they comport themselves while the world tunes in and out, variously following the motions and transactions that comprise their quotidian existence. Indeed, members of my own family couldn’t care lees who’s been peeking at them through the drapes.

Says one: “My life is an open book – and a pretty boring one, at that.”

Says another: “Dude, sacrifices must be made. Ever think what you’d do without the Internet?”

To which I respond, “Don’t call me dude.”

In fact, I have often pondered what I’d do without the web. And, if I’m honest with myself, the story never ends well. Still, I wonder just how much Kool-Aid the so-called “Internet of Things” requires its true believers to quaff?

“With never-before seen tech breakthroughs and thousands of new products launched, innovation took center stage at the 2014 International CES (Consumer Electronics Association conference) in Las Vegas, Nevada.”

That was from the press release following the event – during which “3,200 exhibitors showcased their latest technologies and major tech breakthroughs, launching some 20,000 new products to capture the world’s attention” – earlier this month. Here’s what Karen Chupka, senior vice president of International CES and corporate business strategy, had to say:

“Technology of the future was widespread  at the 2014 CES where executives from every major industry came to see, touch, interact and do business at the world’s intersection for innovation. Amazing new products emerged in the areas of wireless, apps, automotive, digital health and fitness, 3D printing, startup tech and so much more. It was an incredible event that brought the global tech community together and successfully celebrated and showcased the amazing innovation that is a hallmark of our industry.”

Welcome, indeed, brave new world.

Common – nay, fundamentally crucial – to all such gadgets is their Internet connectivity. Everyday household appliances – once inert and dumb; now active and smart – will keep tabs on your habits, schedules and coming an goings in both real and digital worlds.

Leading the charge, naturally, is Google. The giant announced earlier this month that it would buy Nest Labs Inc. for a cool $3.2 billion in cash. Nest manufactures  thermostats and smoke alarms. But not just any thermostats and smoke alarms. In their effort to make you a more intelligent energy consumer, these ones talk to you through your Internet-enabled computer, and this, of course, raises the specter of spying.

For its part, the new venture has insisted that it would never tabuse its position by mishandling personal information that might come its way via its new “nests”.

But, really, if the choice is between privacy and cool, new tech for the vast, greedy marketplace, are Google’s assurances even necessary these days?

Tagged , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: