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Government services and surveillance
“Do we attain the benefit we are told we are getting (in exchange for our privacy)?”
“It’s up to the OPC to speak out against surveillance…the OPC should be out there
banging the drums.”
Focus group participants for the most part were comfortable with surveillance for the protection of national
security and crime prevention; however, when asked about surveillance being applied to them, many did not
like the idea of being profiled without their knowledge and were concerned about how surveillance might
infringe on basic rights and freedoms. They were comfortable with the government’s use of personal
information to deliver more efficient services, though some worried about the government’s technical ability
to safeguard information from breaches.
Stakeholders overwhelmingly felt that surveillance should be a priority area for the OPC. We heard many
concerns about recent legislation, particularly relating to lawful access and anti-terrorism. Concerns were also
voiced about the government’s massive data collection activities, as revealed by Edward Snowden, as well as
the deputization of private sector companies to collect Canadians’ information on behalf of the government.
Stakeholders felt that the OPC’s involvement in this area is crucial because Canadians do not have a choice in
dealing with the government and the OPC is uniquely positioned to hold the government accountable for
respecting Canadians’ privacy. Some expressed fears that vulnerable groups such as youth and minorities
would be adversely affected by government profiling and surveillance activities.
Stakeholders were generally comfortable with sharing information for service delivery purposes and a clear
majority felt that the OPC should focus on surveillance and not service delivery. We heard calls for greater
transparency of government information sharing agreements in the context of national security activities, as
well as warrantless access of telecommunications data. We were asked to advocate for more effective
oversight of government surveillance activities.
Protecting Canadians in a borderless world
“Some companies are calibrating to the highest (privacy) standard and applying it
internationally; others are choosing to locate in the country with lowest standard.”
Focus group participants were generally not comfortable with their personal information leaving Canada, and
many were in fact surprised to hear that it routinely does. They perceived international laws to be less privacy
protective, and felt that having their personal information leave Canada exposed them to an increased risk of
fraudulent activities such as identity theft.
From stakeholders, we heard that the lack of harmonized privacy legislation internationally is challenging for
organizations and confusing to Canadians. Organizations spoke about the costs of figuring out and keeping
track of their legal obligations in different jurisdictions. Some noted the need for more transparency with
regard to where Canadians’ data is stored and processed, and the level of protection that exists abroad.