Is Someone Watching You Read This?

Steve Anderson on how over 35 organizations, over a dozen experts, and Canadians across the country have come together to ensure governments respect our right to privacy.
By: /
October 23, 2013

If there’s one thing that unites Canadians, it’s privacy. No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, nobody wants government bureaucrats staring over their shoulder, reading their emails, or analyzing who they talk to or where they visit on the Internet.

That’s why so many are speaking out about reports that suggest the government has the power to monitor the day-to-day lives of law-abiding Canadians through a dragnet collection of our sensitive private information that is secretive, expensive, and out of control.

We’re talking about secret spying on the private lives of anyone, at any time, and we can’t even tell when we’ve been victimized. The government’s own watchdog has suggested that our most sensitive private data may have been collected by a government spy agency called Communications Security Establishment Canada.

This agency is about to receive a lavish new 72,000-square-metre compound in Ottawa, that will cost $4 billion of our tax dollars to build and operate—the most expensive government building ever built, according to the CBC.

Despite the huge power and reach of CSEC, the agency’s oversight has been led by just a single retired judge, Robert Décary, who has acted as CSEC commissioner since 2010. Despite his limited resources, Mr. Décary has sounded the alarm bells, suggesting that CSEC may have been illegally spying on Canadians within the past 12 months.

Reports about this kind of illegal behaviour date back as far as 1995, when a courageous young whistleblower and CSEC employee, Jane Shorten, revealed how the agency was breaking the law by listening in on private conversations between Canadians. According to Andrew Mitrovica, "the tipping point for her was listening to a conversation a young Canadian woman working at a foreign embassy in Canada had with her gynecologist."

Maclean’s Jesse Brown has also highlighted how CSEC deliberately tampered with global encryption standards to enable the US NSA to “secretly commandeer the process and build a ‘back door’ into the encryption, which let America spy on the world in secret for years.”

All this is why so many Canadians are shaking their heads and asking just how this reckless spying serves Canadian interests. How did CSEC get this out of control?

Another question Canadians might ask, if our sensitive private data is being collected and stored in giant CSEC databases, is whether it is safe from cyber-criminals and security breaches. Canada has recently seen several large data breaches by the federal government—in recent years there have been over 3,000 breaches of sensitive citizen data, affecting approximately 725,000 of us.

Unchecked online surveillance also erodes trust in online service providers, which is bad for commerce and our digital economy. It all points to a government and political system that has lost touch with Canadians when it comes to respecting our right to privacy.

That’s why a huge coalition involving over 35 organizations, over a dozen experts, and Canadians from across the country have come together to ensure governments only use personal data in a manner that respects our right to privacy.

The Protect Our Privacy Coalition is made up of a network of public interest organizations, businesses, experts, privacy advocates, and concerned citizens, who have united to say the following: “More than ever, Canadians need strong, genuinely transparent, and properly enforced safeguards to secure privacy rights. We call on government to put in place effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities.”

Every day, more and more Canadians are speaking out to safeguard these Charter rights. You can join us at

*CSEC commissioner Robert Décary was replaced by Jean-Pierre Plouffe on October 9, 2013.