No such thing as privacy intrusions in the age of oversharing

Law enforcement and security agencies use a wealth of sources in their investigations, including openly-available data.

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on January 20, 2020

WE LIVE IN a world where everyone seems to want to share a lot, sometimes too much, about their lives. Whether its Facebook or WhatsApp or Twitter, people think that we all need to know what they are doing, eating, or whom they are dating. Don’t get me wrong, I too use it to share information, both professional and personal, but many think that some data should really not be blasted out to the world. There is such a thing as ‘over sharing’ after all.

So if we elect to put ourselves out there do we not give up our right to privacy? In other words, do we not lose control over who sees it and how they choose to use it? I have certainly learned that by writing pieces for the Hill Times and posting lots of material on-line I have opened myself up for all kinds of reactions, ranging from two-thumbs-up to ‘what a load of garbage!’

If we elect to put ourselves out there, do we not give up our right to privacy? In other words, do we not lose control over who sees it and how they choose to use it?

Let me take this in a different direction. Should those we expect to keep us safe, i.e. agencies such as the RCMP and CSIS, have a right to look at open source data to help them do their work as they are legislatively mandated to do?

Ms. Small (Photo: Canadian Press)

One Canadian appears to think no

A Toronto activist named Rachel Small who is concerned about the ‘abuses’ committed by the mining industry is now also concerned that the RCMP compiled a six-page ‘profile’ of her by scouring her social media postings. She found this action ‘creepy and unsettling’; for her part, RCMP Sgt. Penny Hermann stated that the Force does its due diligence to ensure there are no threats to public safety.

Readers know that I am biased and should not be shocked that I support the RCMP 100% on this. First, Ms. Small is wrong: those who work in national security and public safety do not profile. We look for information to suggest that there are either reasonable grounds to believe (RCMP) or suspect (CSIS) someone poses a threat to the civil order before we begin an investigation.

These investigations are launched where it is determined there is a real chance of violence. Canadians are constitutionally allowed – as we should be – to protest and to expression dissent. We are not, however, permitted to do so through the use of violent methods. That is a criminal offence.

Colombians protesting a Canadian mining company (Photo: CBC)

Invasion of privacy?

Furthermore, legitimate investigations are based on a wide variety of information. Some of this is obtained through court-ordered wiretaps (Part VI warrants for the RCMP and other law enforcement agencies and Section 21 warrants for CSIS). These methods are subject to rigourous scrutiny – as they should be, since they are serious incursions into Canadians’ privacy. But intercepted private communications are not the only tools in the box.

Scrolling through an open Facebook page to see if someone stupidly calls for acts of violence to protest the mining sector is no such invasion of privacy. If your Aunt Betty can look at your postings, so can CSIS and the RCMP. If you want to prevent that from happening I highly advise you to change your privacy settings.

Ms. Small’s complaint is frivolous and betrays a woeful ignorance as to how national security works. Maybe she should use another on-line app, say Google, to educate herself.


Phil Gurski
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