Canadians are ‘Disturbingly’ Apathetic About Online Privacy, Survey Finds

Canadians appear to be much more apathetic about their online privacy than Americans, the results of a new survey suggest.

According to The Canadian Internet Registration Authority and Ipsos Reid, half of Canadians believe it is acceptable for the government to monitor email and other online activities of Canadians in some circumstances. When those circumstances include preventing “future terrorist attacks,” the number of Canadians who say online surveillance is acceptable jumps to 77%.

“Since May of this year, media outlets and stakeholder groups around the world have been consumed by the revelations that the US government monitors the activities of Internet users around the world,” CIRA says. The scandal prompted the organization to poll Canadians for their views on the subject. The survey results have alarmed CIRA:

The results are startling enough that CIRA is calling for a national dialogue on the subject. CIRA’s survey results are especially disturbing given that that unlike with phone taps or the opening of mail, both of which require a warrant, online surveillance often happens without transparent judicial oversight – and yet appear to be raising relatively little concern.

“Trust is the foundation that supports all transactions—social, financial and at the Domain Name System—on the Internet,” says Byron Holland, CEO of CIRA. “When an uninvited third party is introduced into those transactions it erodes that trust. It erodes all that has enabled the Internet to be the greatest driver of positive social and economic change in centuries.”

Canadians’ apparent apathy may be rooted in simple ignorance, according to CIRA: the survey found that only 18% of Canadians believe Internet activity is confidential. 40% believe the Canadian government is tracking their Internet activity. But as the Snowden affair has revealed, “all Internet activity that have any touch point in the US may be monitored,” CIRA says. “Considering that Canadian Internet traffic routinely routes through the U.S., this means that individual Canadians can be as much, or even more under the lens of PRISM as any American, without the benefit of any judicial oversight.”

“In the 1970s, outrage with unauthorized mail openings and wiretaps without warrants resulted in the MacDonald Commission, and ultimately the creation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” added Holland. “Where has this rage gone? Has our moral compass shifted enough in the decades since that we’re now okay with governments tracking our every move?”

According to Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, “These are discouraging but important results. As much of the world is engaged in a fierce debate over surveillance, Canadian complacency is a major issue. It speaks to the need for greater public education and awareness of current surveillance activities, oversight programs, and the implications for privacy and freedom of expression for all Canadians.”

“The poll demonstrates the complexity that underpins surveillance issues,” noted David Fewer, Director of CIPPIC. “While clearly a majority of people would accept some loss in privacy if it would prevent terrorist attacks, the mass and indiscriminate monitoring of all Canadians’ online activities is neither necessary for the foiling of terrorist plots, nor a guarantee of safety.”