Citizens watching citizens

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Waiting for his bus, a man watches as two people smash a glass window in an attempt to break into a building.  He takes his phone out of his jacket pocket, points it towards the couple across the street, and snaps a photo. He posts it to Twitter. “Incredible,” he writes. “At the corner of Wellington and Fifth.”

Welcome to the world of citizen journalism, where the ubiquity of camera-enabled smartphones and the exploding popularity of social media has led to the rise of citizens watching, and reporting on, the actions of other citizens.

In June 2011, bystanders documented  the scene as a riot broke out in downtown Vancouver following Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. Tips were submitted by the public to the Vancouver police, which included over 1,000,000 photos and over 1,000 hours of video. These events provide a real-life scenario to study the emergence of citizen journalism and the potential for misuse of personal information that comes with it.

We commissioned two independent papers intended to further discussion on this topic. We asked Internet strategist Jesse Hirsh and lawyer Kent Glowinski to explore the technology and legal implications, and to consider possible legal protection for privacy within social media. These papers are now available on our website. We invite you to read them and let us know in the Comments section below what you think.

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