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Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada


Transparent Lives

Surveillance in Canada






How Canadian Lives Became Transparent to Watching Eyes

TREND 1 Expanding Surveillance

From the Atypical to the Routine

TREND 2 Securitization and Surveillance

From Privacy Rights to Security Risks

TREND 3 The Blurring of Sectors

From Public Versus Private to Public with Private

TREND 4 The Growing Ambiguity of Personal Information

From Personally Identified to Personally Identifiable

TREND 5 Expanding Mobile and Location-Based Surveillance

From Who You Are to Where You Are

TREND 6 Globalizing Surveillance

From the Domestic to the Worldwide

TREND 7 Embedding Surveillance in Everyday Environments

From the Surveillance of People to the Surveillance of Things

TREND 8 Going Biometric

From Surveillance of the Body to Surveillance in the Body

TREND 9 Watching by the People

From Them to Us


What Can Be Done?

APPENDIX 1 Surveillance and Privacy Law: FAQS

APPENDIX 2 Surveillance Movies

APPENDIX 3 How to Protect Your Privacy Online: FAQS

APPENDIX 4 Canadian NGOS Concerned with Surveillance, Privacy, and Civil Liberties

APPENDIX 5 Further Reading

List of Contributors



Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada details nine key trends in the processing of personal information, trends that are evident throughout the world. They affect all Canadians, but few citizens are aware of how, when, for what purpose, or with what consequences their personal data are used by large organizations. Hence the title: Transparent Lives. This book demonstrates that our lives are open and visible to organizations as never before and that in every area of life—as citizens, consumers, workers, and travellers—this makes a difference.

That difference is summed up in the subtitle of this book: Surveillance in Canada. By “surveillance,” we mean any systematic focus on personal information in order to influence, manage, entitle, or control those persons whose information is collected. Whether we are claiming health benefits in the clinic, using our loyalty cards in the store, performing our daily duties in the workplace, checking our messages on a smartphone, or waiting in the security line to board a plane, our data are collected, stored, classified, revealed, or even sold to others in ways that may variously guide our purchases, channel our choices, delay our departure, ensure that we are fairly or unfairly treated, or reward or punish our behaviour.

As organizations become more digital, they seek more personal data in order to increase efficiency, productivity, oversight, and control. As organizations find that they save money or increase their appeal to clients through their digital efforts, they intensify their use of new technologies and techniques to identify specific categories of people so that different groups can be treated differently. For instance, loyalty cards reward repeat customers, welfare payments are tightly targeted, street cameras “see” minorities and youth disproportionately in urban areas, and customers seeking coffee can quickly learn where the nearest Starbucks is located.

In these examples, as in those used throughout this book, surveillance is understood as an organizational tool that has ambiguous consequences. It is not simply good or bad, helpful or harmful. At the same time, neither is it ever neutral. This volume shines a light on how key surveillance trends produce outcomes that call for care in using personal data, especially by those who process sensitive information but also by those whose data are disclosed on a daily—even moment-by-moment—basis. The book draws attention to urgent questions of privacy, fairness, and justice.

What Are the Key Trends?

Trend 1:

Surveillance is expanding rapidly. Our newly digital existence has dramatically multiplied possibilities for surveillance. This expansion is readily visible in the everyday lives of our children. Seeing how profoundly a young child is touched by surveillance makes it clear that the processing of personal data influences many routine aspects of life.

Trend 2:

The accelerating demand for greater security drives much surveillance. This is obvious in, say, an airport, but it is also visible in policing and even in workplace monitoring. It is not clear, however, that such surveillance makes us safer.

Trend 3:

Public and private agencies are increasingly intertwined. Where surveillance was once conducted mainly by government or policing agencies, outsourcing has brought for-profit organizations into the surveillance arena. Corporate gathering of personal data now outstrips that done by police and intelligence agencies. Personal data from commercial databases are now sought and processed by government, significantly increasing the amount of information that governments collect about their citizens.

Trend 4:

It is more difficult to decide what information is private and what is not. Your name or social insurance number clearly identify you as an individual, but what about a group photo in which you appear that is later posted on Facebook or a picture taken by a traffic camera of your car licence plate number? Each can be used to identify or track you. And such identification can also be made through the combination of different forms of data.

Trend 5:

Mobile and location-based surveillance is expanding. A growing number of organizations, from police to marketers, are interested in not only who you are (identification) and what you are doing (behaviour) but also where you are at any given moment. Our mobile devices make us more visible.

Trend 6:

Surveillance practices and processes are becoming globalized. Canada is far from unique in experiencing rapid surveillance growth. In fact, much surveillance originates in broader international policy changes. Airlines, for example, operate with similar routines worldwide. How we deal with this depends on specifically Canadian traditions, laws, and cultures.

Trend 7:

Surveillance is now embedded in everyday environments such as cars, buildings, and homes. Increasingly, each of these basic elements of daily life features devices that recognize owners or users through technologies like voice activation or card swiping. Surveillance is thus becoming more pervasive and less perceptible.

Trend 8:

The human body is increasingly a source of surveillance. Fingerprinting, iris scanning, facial recognition, and DNA records are now commonly used to identify individuals. Our bodies become passwords, and delicate tracings of our body are sometimes seen as more reliable than our statements and stories.

Trend 9:

Social surveillance is growing. Social media have facilitated an explosion of digitally enabled people watching. This somewhat different trend raises troubling questions about privacy while making surveillance seem more normal and less exceptional.

What Can Be Done?

We do not live in a police state. Canada has a fairly good track record of limiting unnecessary surveillance and promoting privacy, although in recent years, events such as the advent of no-fly lists and police access to personal data online have dented our reputation. Our privacy commissions (federal and provincial) are the envy of many countries, and individuals and agencies routinely question apparently egregious lapses in care with personal data in Canada.

Transparent Lives is concerned, above all, with unnecessary, excessive, and sometimes illegal processing of personal data. To oppose the growth of surveillance is to raise questions about abuses that often arise from the thoughtless extension of some legitimate surveillance to other areas. This is often referred to as “function creep” or even “mission creep.” Although some general protections exist, the main forms of resistance to unwanted or unwarranted surveillance happen when a specific issue comes into the public spotlight. At that time, several different responses typically occur, each of which is valuable. Together, they can be formidable.

We have a number of assets to draw upon in meeting the challenges we face. Canadians have some strong protections under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982); the federal Privacy Act (1982), which pertains to government; the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA, 2004), which relates to commerce; and several provincial laws. The privacy commissioners at federal and provincial levels have been vigilant in their efforts to ensure that privacy laws are observed in spirit as well as letter. Privacy professionals and NGOS have buttressed the available protections and may also act as whistleblowers on specific issues. However, such protections can only be effective when supported by an informed and active citizenry. Ordinary citizens, along with educational initiatives, have a vital role to play in exposing and questioning surveillance and in pressing for privacy.

Transparent Lives demonstrates dramatically just how visible we have all become to myriad organizations and what this means—for better or for worse—for how we conduct our everyday lives. The irony is that as we have become more transparent to organizations, they have become less transparent to us. The politics of personal data involves making surveillance processes more visible to us so that we can engage democratically to seek fairness for all. Our hope is that this book will stimulate action toward greater accountability within organizations. In a digital age, data, especially personal data, are profoundly political.


This book is the work of many people, each of whom is committed to its message and has agreed to trust the editors and their assistant with the final product. It is collaboratively written to maximize its reliability and collectively edited to ensure its readability. The main authors are Colin J. Bennett, Andrew Clement, Aaron Doyle, Kevin D. Haggerty, Stéphane Leman-Langlois, David Lyon, David Murakami Wood, Benjamin J. Muller, Laureen Snider, and Valerie Steeves. In addition, other professors, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students contributed to some sections of the text, including the appendixes, and also suggested possible illustrations. These are Ciara Bracken-Roche, Art Cockfield, Alexander Cybulski, Ian McCuaig, Jeffrey Monaghan, Jonathan Obar, Caroline Pelletier, Sachil Singh, and Dan Trottier. A number of privacy and surveillance experts kindly ran their critical eyes over the manuscript: Robin Bayley, Jay Handelman, Peter Hope-Tindall, Philippa Lawson, Pierrot Péladeau, Blaine Price, Chris Prince, Roch Tassé, Micheal Vonn, and Yijun Yu. At Athabasca University Press, we were ably assisted by Pamela MacFarland Holway, Kathy Killoh, Morgan Tunzelmann, and Megan Hall. And the project simply would not have been possible without the editorial assistance of Anne Linscott and Emily Smith and the administrative help of Joan Sharpe in the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen’s University.

The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting, a multidisciplinary research program, is a Major Collaborative Research Initiative involving several Canadian universities as well as the Open University in the United Kingdom and is fully funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The research team examines a variety of different aspects of processing personal information in today’s digital world (see www.sscqueens.org/projects/the-new-transparency/about/), but we have been committed from the start to offering back to Canadians the outcome of our investigations in an accessible format. We are grateful for the ongoing support of SSHRC, as well as for that of the entire “NewT” team and our partners, particularly the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.



How Canadian Lives Became Transparent to Watching Eyes

Today, our lives are transparent to others in unprecedented ways. In Canada, as elsewhere, many kinds of organizations watch what we do, keep tabs on us, check our details, and track our movements. Almost everything we do generates an electronic record: we cannot go online, walk downtown, attend a university class, pay with a credit card, hop on an airplane, or make a phone call without data being captured. Personal information is picked up, processed, stored, retrieved, bought, sold, exchanged. Our lives—or rather, those traces and trails of data, those fragments of reality to which our lives can be reduced—are visible as never before, to other individuals, to public and private organizations, to machines.

Do we care? Some shrug off this loss of privacy as an inevitable consequence of living in a digital world. Some say, “So what? In the days when people lived in villages and small towns, their lives were forever open to personal scrutiny. What we have today is just a new electronic form of the same kind of public knowledge of private lives.” Others—in particular, those who use personal data to make money—dismiss any worries as misplaced. For example, as early as 1999, Scott McNealy of the giant computer company Sun Microsystems claimed, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”1 In 2010, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg memorably declared: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”2

In what follows, we will see that such responses range from inadequate to wrong. Surveillance does matter. It confronts us with questions that will not go away and that cannot simply be shrugged off. Yes, surveillance has exploded in a digital world, but what are its actual effects? Do we know? Yes, people in villages knew that details of their lives were open to public scrutiny, but now it is large government and business organizations, not only our neighbours, that probe our lives, and they do so on a massive scale. Yes, systems like Sun Microsystems work to diminish privacy in some settings, but “zero privacy”? This assumes that systems are all-knowing and that people cannot resist, which is clearly not the case. Yes, social media help to push the privacy envelope, but the “social norm” is much more complex and consequential than Zuckerberg cares to think. These simplistic (not to mention self-serving) responses to a complex situation fail to grasp the personal, social, and political consequences of surveillance. As Canadian Internet guru Don Tapscott says, “With radical transparency, all of our identities and behaviours become flattened and observable by others—and we lose control.”3

“The New Transparency,” the title of the seven-year research project that prompted this book, was chosen to drive home the point that we are visible to others as never before.4 The extent to which personal information is gathered, processed, and retained is unparalleled in human history—a fact that may produce feelings of discomfort or uncertainty about our own lives. I did not intend that photo to be seen by a potential employer, we may realize in hindsight. Why is this store asking for my phone number yet again? But the subtitle of the research project is “Surveillance and Social Sorting.” This phrase is meant to spotlight not only our discomfort at being exposed—surveilled—but also a second issue: What happens to us when our personal information is collected and used by others? Having a sense of control over our public persona is vitally important, as are the ways in which we are profiled and categorized, because such processes have an impact on our life chances and choices. We are treated differently depending on our profiles, and such treatment, in turn, changes our present and our future. This is social sorting.

The “we” here refers to Canadians. Surveillance, of course, knows no national boundaries. But while similar processes occur in other countries, this book spotlights how surveillance is being augmented and intensified in Canada. And Canadians do care. For instance, more than half (55 percent) of Canadians polled in 2012 said that they object to police and intelligence services, even with a court order, obtaining information from content posted on social media sites. Two-thirds of Canadians polled in the same year disagreed with the statement that the “police and intelligence agencies should have more powers to ensure security even if it means Canadians have to give up some personal privacy safeguards.”5 And 90 percent object to companies like Google selling their information to others.6 As surveillance spreads, Canadians need to know not just about specific and spectacular cases of privacy invasion or security breaches but also about the key trends in surveillance. We badly need a way to put our experiences, our anxieties, and our hopes about the treatment of personal data in context. And we need to communicate these trends to policy makers, technical experts, information officers, educators, and the like so that we all have a voice in shaping the future of digitally dependent Canada.

What Is Surveillance?

Not long ago, the word surveillance conjured up a mental image of agents in trench coats with raised collars shadowing suspects through dingy streets or placing hidden bugs in the homes of their targets. Today, all that has changed. Not that such things no longer happen; they do. But surveillance is much, much broader than that. Bureaucracies have always, for the sake of efficiency and enlarged capacity, kept files and stored information on individuals. Now, computer and communication technologies take this much further. For instance, whereas yesterday’s filing cabinets for paper documents created single silos of information that only a few could access, with today’s searchable networked databases, information now grows and flows in ways that would have been unimaginable to the office clerks of yesteryear. And, today, information is easy to access: a few keywords and clicks, and—voilà!—entire biographies can be made to appear.

It does not stop there. It is not just that more personal information is circulating and is being used in new ways to promote today’s political and economic priorities and to manage risk. In Canada, for example, novel ways of thinking about our border with the United States as a “security perimeter” have had concrete consequences: personal information now flows more freely south, the security of international trade is now a key purpose of security efforts, and risk-management criteria help to determine who is—and who is not—allowed to travel freely based on the radio frequency identification (RFID) tags embedded in passports or on the images collected from full-body scanners.

What happens to personal information is crucial, then. People with certain kinds of profiles “pass” with greater ease than others. And this is true not only at the border but also in the marketplace. Your frequent flyer card at the airport and your loyalty card in the supermarket are the visible tip of a hidden iceberg. If that iceberg were exposed, it would show a series of systems constantly busy collecting and sorting troves of data. At the airport, some Canadians discover that they are on a no-fly list (called “Passenger Protect” in Canada), while others can daydream their way through security checks.7 On the phone to a customer service agent, some consumers discover that they are unexpectedly rewarded, while others cannot get past the “Your call is important to us …” holding position. Surveillance underlies all of these processes.

Surveillance today is not just a matter of tracking “bad” or “dangerous” people. Statistics and software together turn surveillance into a way of classifying people based on whatever personal data are available. Yesterday’s target was a person; today’s target is a profile. Yet, as we have seen, that profile packs a punch. You soon know if the profile associated with you is categorized as risky or reliable, one to be rewarded or rebuffed. But how did it happen? What information pushes your profile in one direction, not another? Surveillance was once literally “watching”; now, it is also “seeing with data.” How those data are collected, manipulated, and acted on is pivotal.

So what exactly is surveillance? We define it as any systematic focus on personal information in order to influence, manage, entitle, or control those whose information is collected. Put this way, it is clear that surveillance can be good or bad, acceptable or not. But it is also clear that surveillance is more than peeping at, snooping, or eavesdropping on others. Surveillance is a dominant organizational practice that often results in people being categorized in ways that facilitate different forms of treatment for different individuals. From Google to Homeland Security, from Revenue Canada to the RCMP, this sort of surveillance is central. Perhaps we should say, this sorting of surveillance, because the big question is how we are socially sorted by surveillance today.

At the same time, the rapid expansion of many kinds of surveillance has prompted or facilitated its further growth in new directions.8 Most of this volume is about surveillance by organizations that gather data on individuals and populations, profiling them for various purposes. However, ordinary individuals are engaging in an increasing amount of small-scale surveillance. They may set up home security systems, or install nanny cams (video cameras hidden in such things as teddy bears or clocks), or track others using social media (see Trend 9). Still others may try to “return the gaze” of organizations as they watch for abusive or illegal organizational practices. The decisive difference between individuals and organizations is the kind of power available to each. Even though ordinary Facebook users have access to the largest facial-recognition system in the world (Facebook’s “tag suggestion”), they do not control the algorithms that classify people into groups for differential treatment. This is why the social sorting dimension, available primarily to large organizations, is vital for understanding contemporary surveillance.

Surveillance is now a ubiquitous and complex phenomenon. On the one hand, it is the routine way in which many organizations work, often with benign consequences. On the other hand, surveillance is a form of power that affects everyone, sometimes as identifiable individuals and sometimes as whole populations. Some groups are touched by surveillance more than others, but in all cases the balance of power between individuals and organizations shifts with the growth of new surveillance practices and processes. So while surveillance may produce good or bad outcomes, it is never neutral. And the issues are far too important to leave to bureaucrats, politicians, or technical experts. In what follows, much of the focus is on the questionable aspects of surveillance, and we conclude with how we might rise to the new challenges before us.

Surveillance in Canada: The Context

As in any country in the world, surveillance is vital to government and commerce in Canada. Indeed, with its early commitment in the 1960s to high technology and to the growth of an information infrastructure, as seen in the country’s use of mainframe computers and its pan-Canadian telephone grid, Canada was a leader in processing personal information. Operational efficiency was seen as a key goal. From the beginning, however, it was also clear that socio-political values influenced how computerization occurred and thus how different groups were affected.9 As early as 1940, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (predecessor to Statistics Canada) used punch cards and sorting and tabulating machines for the National Registration process to determine who was “available” for conscription into the armed forces. Germans, Italians, Japanese, and Doukhobors were “ineligible,” as were Chinese and Indian residents.10 Social sorting has increased and intensified since that time. Today, information technology (IT) enables more precise classification of groups, increases reliance on private sector companies, and facilitates and fosters the sharing of information within and between organizations.11

It must be said, too, that the need for regulation—for legal limits on data processing—was acknowledged from the start. Indeed, for many around the world, Canada is seen as a beacon when considering how personal data are protected and privacy is upheld. The Canadian network of privacy commissioners, who can receive and act on complaints, is the envy of many countries. Canadians have much to be grateful for in the commitment of government to protecting ordinary citizens from the risks and hazards of circulating personal data. Much progress has been made over several decades.

For example, data-protection provisions were introduced into the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977; the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) includes freedom from “unreasonable search and seizure,” which has been interpreted to include protection for privacy; and the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (section 5, 1976) says that “every person has a right to respect for his private life.” The first Canadian Privacy Act was passed in 1983, regulating how the federal government uses, collects, and discloses personal information. In 2000, another federal law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) was passed, regulating the use of personal data in commercial contexts. It was fully in effect by 2004.

Other countries have been slower to act or have enacted weaker protections. For example, although the United States passed its Privacy Act in 1974, earlier than Canada did, it did not establish a specific body similar to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which was created in 1977 to monitor and oversee compliance with privacy legislation. Americans are directed to the courts with any complaints or charges arising from their privacy laws. Ontario also scored a first, establishing in 1988 the Ontario Information Privacy Commission (IPC), a body that oversees both privacy and freedom of information. Admittedly, some believe that this apparently contradictory dual mandate dilutes the impact of the IPC. At the federal level, another important provision requiring consent appeared in the 2000 PIPEDA legislation. This provision requires organizations to obtain consent of an individual when they collect, use, or disclose his or her personal information.

Canada, however, cannot rest on its laurels. Technology changes fast, but so do commercial and government practices. If one thinks of national security or, for that matter, of social media, challenges to personal-data handling have mushroomed beyond recognition since the year 2000. Airport security currently involves data gathering and profiling procedures—fingerprinting, camera surveillance, electronic devices in passports—that would have been unthinkable in the late 1990s. And as for social media, who would have guessed that personal data would be so freely—some say recklessly—shared online, or that a company such as Facebook that makes its profits from selling the personal data of its users would produce the world’s youngest billionaire in just a few short years?

If we look at what ordinary Canadians say, there is cause for concern. A survey conducted by the Globalization of Personal Data (GPD) Project in 2006 showed that a majority of Canadians not only care about their personal data but also take steps to protect themselves by, for example, reading privacy policies when making a purchase from a private company (49.4%) or refusing to give information to businesses when they do not believe it is necessary (77.1%)—and, in follow-up survey by Vision Critical in 2012, these figures had risen to 60 percent and 79 percent, respectively.12 Canadians clearly know that privacy issues affect them.

More than half of Canadians simply trust government to look after their personal data properly. However, the GPD Project’s landmark 2006 survey reported that less than half of the population is aware that there are laws to protect personal information (and this fell by a further 8 percent in the 2012 follow-up survey).13 Only about a third of Canadians think that they have any control over what happens to their data. And almost all Canadians are apprehensive regarding the security of government-held data, sensing the potential for it to end up in private sector hands (slightly under one-half of Canadians surveyed trust companies to protect their data) or with foreign governments—as will happen, for instance, under new “perimeter security” border provisions that increase personal-data sharing with the United States. Canadians are also leery about national security. More than half of the 2006 survey respondents said that national security measures are intrusive (this remained steady in 2012), with many believing that the government should not share personal information with law enforcement unless people are suspected of wrongdoing. About 37 percent of Canadians are certain that visible minorities ought not to have extra security checks (although this proportion shrank somewhat in 2012).14

There are, of course, subtle—and at times not so subtle—differences between Québec and the rest of Canada. According to the 2006 survey cited above, Québécois are, by and large, more optimistic about the benefits of surveillance and show less concern about the collection and use of their personal information than residents of other Canadian provinces. Fewer worry about the possibility of a national ID card, for example, and a smaller proportion think that national-security surveillance measures are intrusive. In this, they sometimes have more in common with their counterparts in European countries, many of whom tend to be comparatively unalarmed by the rise in surveillance.

However, if polling results about surveillance and privacy are in any way indicative, Canadians do care about issues such as profiling. More than half of Canadians polled in 2006 and 2012 oppose targeting visible minorities at airports, for example. But when it comes to rewards from loyalty programs or selling marketing profiles of individuals, more than half of Canadians think that these kinds of social sorting practices are acceptable.15 The difficulty here is that it is hard for pollsters to get at the issue of how people might be negatively affected by profiling done by marketers. Few citizens understand how some people may be marginalized in multiple ways as disadvantages stack up disproportionately for those rejected by advertisers, marketers, and service providers.16

Surveillance in Canada: The Drivers

Part of the problem is that governments and corporations continue to build surveillance infrastructures faster than the public can learn about and debate the consequences. Why is surveillance growing so quickly? What pushes it forward and enables surveillance to seep into every imaginable space of our lives (and even into some we had not imagined)? Technology, law, politics, economy, culture, and our own perceptions and practices each play a part. There is no one dominant driving force behind the rapid expansion of surveillance in Canada. The combined pressures, however, originating at many levels and from many sources, propel the quest for more and more personal information. Some of this expansion seems relatively innocuous, while other aspects are downright egregious. Some is part of deliberate policy, whereas some is an unintended consequence of a legitimate or even desirable process. We discuss these matters later, but here we provide an overview of some of the causes behind the growth of surveillance in Canada.

The first driver is technological potential. Many tools have been developed over the past few decades that make systemic surveillance much easier. Because of the strong cultural belief, especially in North America, that technology is a key to solving social and political problems, adopting new high-tech management tools frequently prompts surveillance-based solutions.17 This faith in technology is demonstrable: even though nontechnological solutions may exist, and even though technological solutions do not necessarily work in the ways claimed for them, the rate at which new technologies are embraced and deployed continues unabated.

This ties in tightly with the second driver, the personal-information economy.18 Personal information is a commercial gold mine (Facebook went public in 2012, valued at $104 billion) and is also highly valued in government departments and in policing, intelligence, and security services. Personal information is often called the “oil” of the twenty-first century—and it may be salutary to think of the risks associated with that!19 More than twenty years ago, consumers rebelled when Lotus Corporation launched Household Marketplace, a system that would have tracked names, addresses, income levels, and number of children for every household in the United States.20 Today, parallel activities are commonplace. A 2006 Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPC) report on Canadian “data brokers” illustrates “how detailed information about you gets into the hands of organizations with whom you have no relationship,” because those same brokers are able to sell that information to commercial organizations and governments alike.21 The authors conclude that “the increasing accumulation of personal data and consolidation of databases leaves individuals vulnerable to abuses by those with access to that data.”22

The third driver is the turn toward neoliberalism, that is, governmental policies that stress free trade and deregulated markets. In its current form, neoliberalism emphasizes the economic role of the private as opposed to the public sector. From this perspective, the market may be relied on to ensure prosperity for all, thus reducing the primary task of the state to military and policing functions: law and order and security. The example of Lockheed Martin’s contract with the Canadian government to provide both IT support and armaments, illustrates this trend well. Free-trade agreements between the United States and Canada encourage such economic interaction, but, at the same time, support for the security function spells profit for Canadian companies. However, the neoliberal state is sometimes less than liberal in how it works to reshape people’s outlooks, expectations, and choices through surveillance. For example, legitimate protest may be redefined as subversive or even terrorist activity, as the actions of environmental groups are portrayed by the Canadian Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre.23

Closely related to neoliberalism is a widespread emphasis on risk management, the fourth driver. For decades, and especially since the 1980s, Canada has relied heavily on statistical analyses of risk to guide public policy. Because so much uncertainty surrounds normal life, from accidents and disasters to financial failure or project collapse, government and related businesses need tools to mitigate or minimize risk while maximizing opportunity. But information is required to find out what the risks are, which is where surveillance comes in. A landmark study of Canadian police, for example, shows that policing was transformed in the late twentieth century by new technologies designed to identify and track risk. To perform this function, police use surveillance to watch people and then categorize them according to the level of risk they might pose.24 Once again, social sorting is the other side of the surveillance coin here. Proving one’s “innocence” becomes less easy for individuals falling into the wrong category, because the default position is suspicion of guilt until the system proves otherwise.

Such emphases also show up in the fifth driver, national security. Although organizations responsible for this task were already expanding in the twentieth century, responses to the attacks of 9/11 gave them a tremendous boost. The logic of risk management holds here, too. Travellers, in particular, have become acutely aware that the demands of national security require us to remove shoes, discard liquids, and display laptops. Increasingly, however, this involves surveillance of bodies as well as baggage. Have you ever noticed the sheer number of ceiling cameras above you as you pass through the security check at the airport? The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority operates these cameras as well as the now familiar body scanners. More importantly, well before departure, passenger data are used to track our movements. But the national security driver is both more and less than “national.” It relies on a network of participating countries that increasingly functions beyond the control of the Canadian government (see Trend 6). And it also justifies watchful eyes in many other areas—such as urban space, sports arenas, and schools—now deemed to have “security” dimensions.

The sixth driver is public perceptions that permit or proscribe new developments in surveillance. While it is clear, as noted earlier, that a large proportion of Canadians are cautious, if not negative, about the extensive reach of surveillance—recall that a steady 60 percent think that security surveillance is intrusive—others reluctantly or resignedly accept more and more monitoring. This is significant. It is easier to introduce new surveillance measures if people are inclined to accept them. The climate of fear that characterizes Canadian life, especially since 9/11, inclines many to accept more surveillance.25 But equally important, acclimatizing ourselves to commercial surveillance online seems to make many more sanguine about surveillance in other areas.26 Clearly, though, if citizens dislike new measures—as was shown when an unprecedented 145,000-plus signed an online petition against “lawful access” provisions in Bill C-30 that would require Internet service providers and others to pass subscriber data to police without a warrant—the powers-that-be take notice.27

The seventh driver is new laws that allow or require surveillance or relax legal limits to surveillance. Privacy laws are increasingly put under pressure to provide exemptions for law enforcement. The “lawful access” provisions that were proposed for Bill C-30, as mentioned above, are a glaring example. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, called the bill “one of the most invasive threats to our privacy and freedom that I have ever encountered.”28 But similar threats arise even within the current laws. For example, if an organization can demonstrate basic compliance with privacy principles, it can legally pursue surveillance practices with impunity. For instance, since 1997, the so-called Business Transformation Project has been used to reduce “welfare fraud” in Ontario, using several surveillance tools, such as “consolidated verification procedures,” that check eligibility for social assistance every twelve months. This reduces the time that caseworkers can spend with their low-income clients and increases the demands on those clients to justify their daily activities. No one suggests that Ontario welfare agencies are contravening privacy laws when they share information with other government agencies, but the negative discrimination produced through their activities—especially against single mothers—is well documented.29

Surveillance in Canada: The Trends

The best way to grasp the magnitude of surveillance changes affecting Canadians is to look at the general trends. This book examines nine key trends of surveillance—all of them large-scale changes that are accelerating faster than ever. In fact, under current conditions, it is difficult to recall just how things used to be before 9/11 or social media. The surveillance story can be told largely as a before-and-after tale. Once, Lotus Corporation—the major corporation that attempted to launch the tracking system of names, addresses, income levels, and numbers of children in individual US households—was forced to reverse policy when consumers objected to its “Orwellian” data-collection project. Now, social media users disclose far more revealing details to a broad array of corporations with every click of the mouse. Once, you could cross the Canada-US border with no more than a driver’s licence. Now, your scrutinized personal data make the trip ahead of you, and you need an “enhanced” licence or a passport to make it past immigration control. And so on. Each of the trends discussed in this book explains how different influences interact to magnify surveillance. Each of the trends examined has profound impacts on social life, freedom, and justice in twenty-first-century Canada.

The discussion of the first trend, surveillance expansion, details some dimensions of the spread of surveillance, demonstrating that practices once considered one-time novelties are now routine and taken for granted. The second trend, securitization and surveillance, relates to the “security” driver: more areas of life are labelled risky and thus require surveillance for security. What is less and less clear, as illustrated by the third trend, the blurring of sectors, is who conducts this surveillance, because public and private agencies each play a role in often complementary or interacting ways. Such blurring is also characteristic of the fourth trend, the growing ambiguity of personal information. But while what counts as personally identifiable data becomes less clear, what is increasingly clear is that surveillance grows despite the ambiguities.

While personal data may be more ambiguous, there is nothing uncertain about the fact that surveillance is no longer just about who you are and what you are doing but also about where you are. Expanding mobile and location-based surveillance is the fifth trend. Moreover, you will be likely to encounter similar kinds of surveillance in different parts of the world: the sixth trend is the globalization of surveillance. But it, too, is complex because local cultures and conditions mean that people experience surveillance differently. Surveillance in Canada is deeply affected by global trends, but it is filtered through Canadian law, traditions, and cultures. The seventh trend, the embedding of surveillance in everyday environments, indicates that surveillance is increasingly ubiquitous and embedded in objects such as cars, buildings, and homes. But this ubiquity is not limited to objects; there is now increasing surveillance in the body, the eighth trend, because of the daily ways in which our bodies are treated as data sources, from our fingerprints or DNA to the way we walk.

The ninth trend, growing social surveillance, is in some ways the most recent, but it is undeniably proving highly significant. Although people watching people is nothing new, it is now tremendously enhanced by social media. As a trend, it is extraordinary. From postwar worries about Big Brother, the overbearingly vigilant tyrant, through the domestication of surveillance in the consumer scrutiny of database marketing, we have come full circle and now monitor each other. Of course, in surveillance terms, this is small potatoes compared with the power of what Google or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) can do. Nevertheless, could carrying out such small-scale surveillance ourselves foster the further acceptance of all kinds of surveillance as “normal”?

Where Do We Go from Here?

The trends described in Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada paint a striking picture. Together, they show that even though much surveillance has positive outcomes, overall, as surveillance increases, the balance of power between individuals and organizations tilts perilously toward organizations. So how much can we trust these authorities, government or commercial, as they watch us constantly? How accountable are they with our personal data? Beyond simply analyzing these trends, then, we set out some conclusions, together with policy responses and specific recommendations. We hope that, most importantly, this book will stimulate urgent public debate at many levels.


1 See Polly Sprenger, “Sun on Privacy: ‘Get Over It,’” Wired, 26 January 1999, https://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/1999/01/17538.

2 See the interview with Zuckerberg by Marshall Kirkpatrick, “Facebook’s Zuckerberg Says the Age of Privacy Is Over,” ReadWrite, 9 January 2010, https://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_zuckerberg_says_the_age_of_privacy_is_ov.php.

3 Don Tapscott, “Is Privacy an Outmoded Idea in the Digital Age?” Toronto Star, 1 June 2012, https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1204668--don-tapscott-on-privacy-in-a-digital-ageis-privacy-in-the-digital-age-an-outmoded-idea/.

4 For more about The New Transparency research project, see https://www.sscqueens.org/projects/the-new-transparency.

5 Frank Graves, “An Increasingly Divided Outlook: Rethinking Canada’s Place in the World,” presentation to the 2012 Walter Gordon Symposium in Public Policy, School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto, 20 March 2012, available from EKOS Politics, https://www.ekospolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012_walter_gordon_symposium_presentation.pdf.

6 The Globalization of Personal Data Project, International Survey on Privacy and Surveillance, https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/handle/1974/7656. See also Elia Zureik, L. Lynda Harling Stalker, Emily Smith, David Lyon, and Yolande E. Chan, eds., Surveillance, Privacy, and the Globalization of Personal Information: International Comparisons (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010).

7 On Public Safety Canada’s Passenger Protect program, see https://www.passengerprotect.gc.ca/home.html.

8 See the discussion of the varieties of surveillance in Charles Raab and Colin J. Bennett, The Governance of Privacy: Policy Instruments in Global Perspective (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 23–26.

9 See, for example, Michael Adler and Paul Henman, “Computerizing the Welfare State,” Information, Communication and Society 8, no. 3 (2005): 315–42.

10 See Scott Thompson, “Consequences of Categorization: National Registration, Surveillance and Social Control in Wartime Canada, 1939–1946” (PhD diss., University of Alberta, 2013).

11 Kenneth Kernaghan and Justin Gunraj, “Integrating Information Technology into Public Administration,” Canadian Public Administration / Administration publique du Canada 47, no. 4 (2004): 525–46.

12 Vision Critical is a division of the Vancouver-based polling company Angus Reid Global. For the 2006 statistics, see “The Globalization of Personal Data Project: An International Survey on Privacy and Surveillance—Summary of Findings, November 2008,” https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/1974/7660/1/2008_Surveillance_Project_International_Survey_Findings_Summary.pdf, 14–15. See also The Globalization of Personal Data (GPD) Project, International Survey on Privacy and Surveillance, https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/handle/1974/7656; and, for an analysis of the international findings of the 2006 survey, see Zureik et al., eds., Surveillance, Privacy, and the Globalization of Personal Information. For the 2012 statistics, see Angus Reid Global, “Privacy and Surveillance: June 2012 Globalization of Personal Data Follow-Up” (Vancouver: Angus Reid Global, 2012), https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/handle/1974/8623, table 71. This report is distributed by the Data and Government Information Centre, Queen’s University; the tables can be downloaded at the URL provided.

13 “The Globalization of Personal Data Project,” 11; Angus Reid Global, “Privacy and Surveillance,” table 29.

14 “The Globalization of Personal Data Project,” 13, 26, and 33; Angus Reid Global, “Privacy and Surveillance,” tables 33 and 44.

15 “The Globalization of Personal Data Project,” 33–34; Angus Reid Global, “Privacy and Surveillance,” table 44.

16 See Oscar Gandy, Coming to Terms with Chance: Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009); and Joseph Turow, The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

17 Regarding the belief in the efficacy of technology, see, for example, Vincent Mosco, The Technological Sublime (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004); and Arthur Kroker, Technology and the Canadian Mind (Montréal: New World Perspectives, 1984).

18 It’s not clear who coined this phrase, but it is used, for example, by Perri 6, “The Personal Information Economy: Trends and Prospects for Consumers,” in The Glass Consumer: Life in a Surveillance Society, ed. Susanne Lace (Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2005); and by Greg Elmer, Profiling Machines; Mapping the Personal Information Economy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).

19 See, for example, Mike Klein, “Major Trends for Enterprise IT: Information Will Be Oil of 21st Century, Gartner Says,” WTN News, 19 October 2010, https://wtnnews.com/articles/7897/.

20 See Denise Caruso, “Digital Commerce: Personal Information Is Like Gold in the Internet Economy,” New York Times, 1 March 1999, https://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/01/business/technology-digital-commerce-personal-information-like-gold-internet-economy-rush.html.

21 See Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), On the Data Trail: How Detailed Information About You Gets into the Hands of Organizations with Whom You Have No Relationship—a Report on the Canadian Data Brokerage Industry (Ottawa: CIPPIC, 2006), www.cippic.ca/sites/default/files/May1-06/DatabrokerReport.pdf.

22 Ibid., ii.

23 See Carys Mills, “Terrorism Monitor Closely Watched Occupy Protests,” Globe and Mail, 10 April 2012, https://www.theglobeandmail.c

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