Canadian Spy agencies: Are they violating our right to privacy?

by MihaiRapeanu on February 5, 2014 - 8:26am

The article Spy agencies, prime minister’s adviser defend metadata collection written by Laura Payton of CBC News revivals the controversial debate regarding data recording by spy agencies. This article conveys the position of John Forster, the chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) who recently had to defend the position of the agency concerning a possible Wi-Fi track of the movements of Canadian passengers in Canadian airports. This polemic arises as a consequence of the information revealed by the National Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. In one of the documents released by Snowden, the Canadian agency is indeed blamed for having collected metadata from Canadian passengers. The CSEC would have therefore collected the location and telephone numbers of calls and even the IP addresses of Canadians using the Wi-Fi service offered in the Canadians airports. This could represent a violation of privacy rights because the spy agency is not supposed to stick to domestic intelligence.

During a question period in front of the Senate, John Forster explained the utility of metadata and insisted on the fact that this type of information is not use to build profiles on Canadians. He also added that metadata is essential to CSEC’s work and that the federal agency doesn’t perform mass surveillance of Canadians. Those revelations are preceded by a previous statement of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s national security adviser, Stephen Rigby, who referred to the collected metadata by the CSEC as “data about data”. Indeed, this type of information doesn’t include the content of a call or a message sent through internet. It only discloses the date, time, duration and location of the communication, as well as the device ID. In some cases, “tags” about the conversation can also be recorded. The moral claim invoked by the government is that we should protect the ones we love, the ones responsible for our own success (be good to the ones that were good with you, the ones that elected you). In more bureaucratic terms, the government has the duty to protect its citizens. The collection of metadata represents, according to federal officials, an efficient way to achieve this goal and to respect this moral claim.

On the other hand, the article reports the concerns of Chantal Bernier, Canada’s interim privacy commissioner, about how spy agencies use social media to collect information. According to her, there is a potential for privacy invasion. She argues that the watchdog supervising the Canadian spy agency has to be more reactionary and should restrict the collection of personal data for Canadians. The author also presents the displeasure of the opposition members at the House of Commons regarding the small cooperation of the Defence Minister, Rob Nicholson. They indeed consider the problem as violation of the privacy rights for all Canadians passengers that were tracked by the CSEC. The moral claim invoked by the opposition is the Golden Rule (ethic of reciprocity). We should not threat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. Having a private life is something that every human being is willing to have and the opposition is resolute to protect this constitutional right.

In my opinion, the right to privacy is a fundamental right that has to be protected by every government ruling a modern state. The moral claim invoked by the opposition is legitimate and is based on love. We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. This rule also embodies the moral claim used by the government. We should not harm someone because we wouldn’t like to be harmed.  The Golden Rule originated thousands of years ago and was a part of several moral standards in many parts of the world. Confucius was among the first to understand it and to promote it. Nowadays, by providing a right to privacy, the Canadian government respects those two moral claims and protects its citizens from being harmed (by the government and by the terrorist organisations). The CSEC should consequently focus on foreign intelligence and prevent the dangerous terrorist attacks that are planned on the other side of our borders.

Source: Payton, Laura. “Spy agencies, prime minister’s adviser defend metadata collection.” CBC News. 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.


for Ethics 1244

I chose this article because your title was intriguing. Alright so the first thing is that this article was very well written secondly very interesting. Alright so I do agree with you in the sense that they should be spying everywhere else but here on terrorist attacks but it could happen that someone plots one here, its just we don't feel as though it will because it has never happened. secondly my personal opinion is that they should be spying on everyone so that way it presents all possibilities of an attack. Is your privacy more important than preventing a possible terrorist attack?


I find the dilemma of security vs. privacy interesting. The use of people’s privacy as a tool for security has been a growing concern for a lot of people. The title first caught my attention and so did the writing style. This article clearly questions what privacy is and what these spy agencies are truly responsible of. Some people may believe that recording data such as the duration of a call, the time of a call and the location of where the call was taken, is not that bad. It does not exactly breach people’s privacy because phone calls are not recorded. My position on this situation is that the government should not have to spy on its citizens through their phones. Rather, governments should be protecting our right to privacy and not use our privacy to protect us. Privacy is a right that needs to be upheld otherwise our society could be faced with a controlling government. How do we decide the most important right? The right to privacy or the right to collective security?

Whiteout privacy their is no security. If you destroy privacy you are destroying our security.

"Any society that would give up a little liberty for a little security will deserve neither and lose both" - Benjamin Franklin

The right to privacy is the right to human dignity remove that right and we're not better than any animals. The terrorist treat is ridiculously small for any individual. You have more "chance" to be strikes by lightening and survive 3 times than to be killed by a terrorist attack. We're living in an extremely secure country already but the medias are deforming the reality.

Plus giving the right to the government to spy on us is a way too big power, we've seen with Edward Snowden that nobody is immune to leaks, but if the government can spy on us and this data fall into the wrong hands i can't imagine the disastrous impact that will be, and we should never forget that those wrong hands could even come form our own government.