Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Your Privacy at Risk

Basic Need | Everyone's Collecting | Metadata | DRM | Repeal C-51 | Resources

Your privacy is at risk like it has never been before, yet most folks think they have no need for concern. They are wrong!

See Restoring Your Privacy for the tips and tools to help you restore your privacy in the face of unprecedented attacks on personal freedom by corporations and governments worldwide.

This page has a lot of information on it. The issue is complex and very important to our future as a free society.

2016 Worst Year for Personal Privacy

2016 is being proclaimed as the worst year for your privacy, ever.

We've seen a series of laws and rules that greatly increase the power of the government and police to gather information on their own citizens and use it without the traditional requirement for warrants or probable cause.

Current trends included allowing U.S. ISPs to collect and sell your surfing data, exclusion of Canadians from privacy protection under U.S. law and the unnecessarily broad powers provided by Canada's Bill C-51.

Privacy a Basic Human Need

There is a reason we have locks on our doors and curtains in our windows.

Privacy is a basic human need.

Fear of Surveillance is Real

The fear of surveillance is realistic and stifles personal expression.

We act differently when we're being followed by a police car.

In the same manner, we don't feel as free to express our creativity when our conversations or Internet activities are being monitored.

Privacy is Not About Hiding Wrongs

How would you feel about every document, photo and file on your computer being printed and posted in a public place? Even more is at stake.

If you believe that you have "nothing to hide" from the prying eyes of the NSA, you shouldn't mind letting a stranger rifle through your bank statements, emails, and photos — right? —

Protecting your privacy DOESN'T mean you have something to hide.

The most common retort against privacy advocates — by those in favor of ID checks, cameras, databases, data mining and other wholesale surveillance measures — is this line: If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

… [This] accept[s] the premise that privacy is about hiding a wrong. It's not. Privacy is an inherent human right, and a requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect.

Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that's why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide. — Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy

The debate between privacy and security has been framed incorrectly as a zero-sum game in which we are forced to choose between one value and the other. Why can't we have both? — Daniel J. Solove: Nothing to Hide

Blaming the Victim

This spying while blaming the victim has a strong echo of McCarthyism.

Even if we think we have nothing to hide, all of us, whether world leaders or ordinary citizens, have good reason to be concerned. — TomDispatch
[A] federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia held that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a personal computer located inside their home. — Electronic Frontier Foundation

More about why privacy matters:

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Everyone is Collecting Information

Everyone is collecting vast amounts of information about you — governments, businesses and the sites you visit on the Internet.

Collecting Domestic Phone Records Unconstitutional

While the stated purpose of NSA (and Canadian) collection of personal phone records is to prevent future terrorist attacks, this abuse of privacy has made us no safer.

The NSA surveillance program collects hundreds of millions of phone records daily. One federal judge criticized the program as beyond Orwellian and likely unconstitutional.Fight 215
We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA's dragnet collection of Americans' phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. — Senator Ron Wyden

Big Corporations Hijacked the Internet

The Internet was made for everyone but is being hijacked by big corporations that are turning people into products without their knowledge or consent. — The Hidden Business of the Internet

And it is probably going to get worse.

Trade deals like TPP, TISA and TTIP have all been open to input from industry but closed to input from both non-profit groups that look out for the public interest as well as many of our elected government representatives.

Big Data: Tracking Your Every Move

Big Data is the current mantra of organizations. How to obtain it, store it, process it.

If you're using privacy software like Ghostery on your web browser, you've probably noticed that most sites now use invisible web beacons, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements that are secretly tracking your every move.

Even the videos and comments section on these sites are marketing tools. You quickly find that by blocking tracking elements, you can no longer view embedded videos or see the comments left by other site visitors.

More About Big Data

There's more about Big Data on these pages:

Social Media

Social media is a very important aspect of privacy because so much personal information is collected including facial recognition software, comparative and linked data (such as the "Like" button) and more.

  • Most, if not all, social media data is being stored outside Canada and no longer has the protections afforded by Canadian law.
  • Most webmail is stored on servers in the U.S. or other countries.
  • Your emails are scanned to profile you to serve ads, alter search results, and other purposes based upon the emails you send and receive if you're using Gmail, Yahoo! mail and similar services.
"If the government said you have to have a tracking device, for certain you would rebel," notes Schneier. "But the government doesn't have to say that because you do it willingly and they just get a copy of the data." — Bruce Schneier

The Guardian reports that

  • 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
  • 500 million tweets are sent every day.
  • 30 billion WhatsApp messages are sent every day.
  • 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram every day.
From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days…and the pace is accelerating. — Eric Schmidt

Facial Recognition

Facial recognition is nearly perfect and is now being deployed in businesses and government services around the world. There has been an explosion of the number of cameras in public areas — often accessible via the Internet.

However, much like with other technology, the legal framework to protect your privacy has fallen far behind which places us at risk.

A report by Georgetown Law Center for Privacy and Technology estimates that about half of US adults — more than 117 million people — have their images logged in a facial recognition network of some kind — a trend civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes as "a real and immediate threat" to privacy. — BBC

Windows 10 is Spyware

Windows 10 is spyware and Microsoft cannot be trusted.

Windows 10 is spying on you, especially if you're using the default privacy settings during installation, log in using your Microsoft Account and use Cortana.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has failed to be completely transparent with users about just what is going on in the background. Sure, the information is out there, but it is hidden away, difficult to interpret, and — let's face it — not something that the vast majority of people are going to spend the time to hunt down and digest. — BetaNews

The Microsoft Services Agreement revised at the same time as Windows 10 is a 12,000-word document where you essentially agree to give up your privacy.

Even the contents of your emails and documents stored in private, offline folders can be subject to scrutiny and “disclosure” (to unspecified parties), according to the wording of Microsoft's privacy policies. — Bernard Marr

This information is already collected by mobile devices.

By making Windows 10 mobile-first, cloud-first on desktops and laptops, Microsoft effectively extended this lack of privacy.

In less than 3 years Windows 10 will become the only Microsoft option.

Prior versions of Windows, including Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, have limited support when running on new processors and chipsets from manufacturers like Intel, AMD, NVidia, and Qualcomm. — Microsoft

Microsoft's Unethical Practices

Microsoft's tricks and schemes to get Windows 7 and 8 users to move to Windows 10 were unethical at best:

In May 2016, in an action designed in a way we think was highly deceptive, Microsoft actually changed the expected behavior of a dialog window, a user interface element that's been around and acted the same way since the birth of the modern desktop. Specifically, when prompted with a Windows 10 update, if the user chose to decline it by hitting the ‘X’ in the upper right hand corner, Microsoft interpreted that as consent to download Windows 10. — Electronic Frontier Foundation

Updates Reset Privacy Settings

Microsoft has made automatic updates mandatory in Windows 10 and seems to reset privacy options to their more-revealing defaults during major updates rather than respecting the user's wishes for privacy.

Too Little, Too Late?

Microsoft has begun to respond to these issues.

On January 10, 2017 a new web-based privacy dashboard was released where you could manage your browse data, clear your search history on Bing, review and clear your location data and edit Cortana knows about you.

But is it enough to restore trust?

Apple Treating Privacy Differently

It doesn't have to be like that. Here's a new Apple policy related to the information they collect to help you navigate using their maps application:

[S]ome of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They're gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it's not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.
Maps is also engineered to separate the data about your trips into segments, to keep Apple or anyone else from putting together a complete picture of your travels. Helping you get from Point A to Point B matters a great deal to us, but knowing the history of all your Point A's and Point B's doesn't. — The Washington Post

Your Devices Are Watching You

The problem of privacy is only going to get worse as the Internet of Things evolves. Already there are more connected devices than people in the world. There is an imminent explosion of devices that will track every aspect of our lives.

“Consented” Eavesdropping

Virtually every “smart” device is gathering information on you (perhaps including your private conversations). From connected baby monitors to smart TVs to video cameras, everything is being connected — the majority in a very insecure manner that can be hacked.

…[W]e learned that Samsung televisions are eavesdropping on their owners. At some level, we're consenting to all this listening. A single sentence in Samsung's 1,500-word privacy policy…. — Bruce Schneier

This isn't an isolated incident. Visio surrendered to a lawsuit charging them with collection viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs.

Printer Tracking

Many people feel safe with a printed document, assuming it can't be traced.

The U.S. government made a secret deal to place yellow dots onto every page printed from many (perhaps most) colour laser printers, ostensibly to track counterfeiters.

We've found that the dots from at least one line of printers encode the date and time your document was printed, as well as the serial number of the printer. — Electronic Frontier Foundation

Smart Meters Reveal Much About You

Analogue meters simply recorded the total amount of electricity used between readings.

Smart meters do more than simply remove the need for meter readers to visit your home or business a few times a year. They record the timing, duration and quantity of electricity you use.

Like any collected data, it reveals much about you, including highly marketable data using technology with significant health risks as discussed in this YouTube video.

Privacy information begins at the video's 24:24 mark but I strongly recommend watching the entire presentation.

Legislation Needed

Legislation will likely be required to manage this “no holds barred” collection of personal data just as certain questions are no longer acceptable on an employment application and access is provided to challenge your credit reporting data.

Current trends in the U.S. are contrary to this protection. President Trump signed the bill allowing ISPs to collect and sell your surfing data on April 3, 2017.

Not only have [U.S. lawmakers] voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online. — Bruce Schneier
This isn't just your browsing history or cookies. It's geolocation data, financial info, passwords, health info, even your Social Security Number. Anything you do, any data you enter, any online video you watch, any email you write. Your ISP could store it all and sell it for their own profit if Congress throws out the FCC rulings. —

There are bound to be abuses by law enforcement of any tracking system.

No Privacy for Canadians in the U.S.

Trump's 'no privacy for non-Americans' order is not encouraging but don't be fooled into thinking that other governments are benevolent.

Private data for citizens of Lithuania, Estonia, Malta and the Netherlands receive greater legal protection from the U.S. than Canadians' data does. Canada is NOT designated as a “covered country” even though we share a huge common border and they are our largest trading partner and have some of the toughest copyright laws.

Fight for our Privacy

To make matters worse, a great deal of Canadian Internet traffic flows in and out of the U.S.

Add your name to the letter to these ministers to demand that they take action to fight for our privacy at Fight for our Privacy.

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“We're Only Collecting Metadata”

Many organizations indicate that they are “only collecting metadata.”

Try asking any of these organizations for their metadata and you'll have a visit from their lawyers. Apparently they view their privacy as more important than yours.

Why Metadata Matters

Research has shown that using only call metadata, the government can determine what your religion is, if you purchased a gun or got an abortion, and other incredibly private details of your life.
Former director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden, recently admitted: We kill people based on metadata.
And former NSA General Counsel Stu Baker said: metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life. If you have enough metadata, you don't really need content.Electronic Frontier Foundation

How revealing metadata can be is demonstrated in these three (rather obvious) examples presented by Kurt Opsahl at CCC on December 30, 2013:

  • They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 a.m. and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about.
  • They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
  • They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don't know what was discussed.

Why metadata matters further expands this concept and helps you to better understand what metadata is and how it affects us.

Anonymous No More

A more intensive look at telephone metadata reveals much more. Your privacy could be compromised by linking the timing of anonymous data to data that directly identifies you via credit card, hotel stays and more.

All this can be used to build a profile of you that may make judgement calls which are then processed as “facts” by other parties. Metadata IS surveillance.

Even something like Alfred Kinsey's sex research data from the 1930s and 1940s isn't safe. Kinsey took great pains to preserve the anonymity of his subjects, but in 2013, researcher Raquel Hill was able to identify 97% of them. — Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier

Much more data is collected today. We can no longer blindly provide access to all our personal data assuming it is truly anonymous.

Hacks and Security Breaches

While organizations are happy to collect your private data, they aren't spending nearly as much protecting it as they do their own private information.

These companies seldom report the loss until much later (often years later) and are not financially responsible because of their vague terms of service and poor privacy policies.

You only need to look at the way Facebook, Hotmail and others so quickly changed their privacy policies to enhance their profitability. You're on your own when it comes to protecting your identity.

If the service is free, then you are the product. — The Day We Lost Everything

Governments Collecting More

[K]now that every border that you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit, and subject line you type, is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. — CITIZENFOUR documentary

Everything We Know About NSA Spying is an excellent YouTube video about NSA spying. It shows just how extensive the reach of this program is and how easy it is to become a target.

In the "new propaganda era" we are entering, where the frontier between information, communication and propaganda becomes blurry, the world needs independent journalists, who engage in the pursuit of the truth, who respect standards of ethics, and whose mission is to give citizens of this world tools to understand what surrounds them. That is to say, in a word, free journalists. — Defence Handbook For Journalists and Bloggers

Governments Collecting More Personal Information

Governments are collecting more about you and your Internet activities.

Never in history has a surveillance state and a representative form of government existed side by side. A free society and a surveillance society cannot be reconciled. Biometrics is the linchpin to a surveillance society. — Constitutional Alliance
Never give a government a power you would not want a despot to have. — John Gilmore

Canadian Government Double Standard

The Canadian government will not allow its data to be stored on servers outside Canada. Canadians should be similarly concerned about the loss of privacy and protection.

However, the government is much less concerned about your privacy. They continue to share data about their own citizens with the US and other Five Eyes partners — even unconfirmed data that has cost innocent individuals their freedom.

Overseas Privacy Threatened

Microsoft successfully fought a December 2013 federal search warrant demanding that the company release emails stored in Ireland.. This demand that data stored on overseas servers be made available should concern everyone. The US is not the only country doing this.

The revelations of NSA searches on U.S. servers has cost American tech companies, forcing them to build servers overseas rather than hosting them all in the United States. This case clearly had implications for these companies being abandoned if foreign customers felt their privacy was threatened even with servers hosted in their own country.

You can find out more about governments collection of personal information at:

Other reports about privacy and surveillance:

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DRM is supposed to stop illegal use of software and media while not interfering with legal use.

DRM creates a damaged good; it prevents you from doing what would be possible without it. — Defective by Design
…trying to make digital files uncopyable is like trying to make water not wet. — Bruce Schneier
Stop DRM in HTML5

Corporations like Netflix, Microsoft, Apple, and Google want to force W3C to embed DRM into HTML5.

Interestingly, if similar laws were in place when these companies got started, they wouldn't have been the success they are today.

Imagine demanding that these corporations provide public access to their payroll information and bank statements so we could ensure they weren't abusing the funds we provide to them.

DRM places unreasonable restrictions that sacrifice your privacy to ensure corporate profit.

These companies don't want a free web. They think they make money by limiting your freedom. — Defective by Design

DRM Affects Privacy

If consumers even know there's a DRM, what it is, and how it works, we've already failed.Peter Lee, Disney Executive in 2005.

One example of how DRM can affect your privacy is Amazon's tracking of where you are in a Kindle ebook. They tell you how long it would take to finish it at your current reading speed but also control how you use Kindle content.

DMCA Abuses

Too often the Digital Millennium Act (DMCA) has been used to stiffle legitimate uses.

It's certainly easier to implement bad security and make it illegal for anyone to notice than it is to implement good security. — Bruce Schneier

Researchers are prevented from discovering security flaws in software. John Deere used it to prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment. Volkswagen used it to hide faked emission control data.

DRM Fallout

After Apple changed their DRM policies when Apple Music was released some users report losing copies of their own music when unsubscribing from the service.

TPP and other trade agreements are designed to increase corporate control worldwide.

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Updated: April 5, 2017

Your privacy is threatened like never before

Repeal Bill C-51

Trudeau promised to amend the controversial and Draconian anti-terrorist Bill C-51.

The law is vague and undefined, making it possible to collect and trade information between agencies without either proper oversight or just cause. It essentially turns Canada into a police state.

Need more reasons to stop Bill C-51? Read the section below.

It Threatens Canadian Business and Online Safety

Even without the increasingly permissive data disclosure practices enabled by C-51, federal government agencies have seen over 3000 breaches of the highly sensitive private information of an estimated 750,000 innocent Canadians in recent years.

In particular we find the following elements from the national security consultation extremely concerning:

  1. It appears to favour the undermining or breaking of the encryption that many of our businesses and workers rely on.
  2. It floats and positively frames mandatory interception powers to access our sensitive business and customer data.
  3. It suggests that mandatory access to subscriber data such as an IP address without a warrant is akin to looking up a number in a phone book. This is an appalling and incorrect analogy for a piece of data that can unlock the highly intimate details of the lives of law-abiding Canadians.
  4. It raises the idea of forced customer data retention and suggests practices such as purging user data as problematic when such practices actually strengthen data security and customer privacy.
The Star

The Need Has Been Overstated

Imagine how you would feel if the government installed cameras in your home that recorded everything you did, then gave police the power to review the footage without a warrant, whenever they want.

If that sounds to you like a gross violation of your privacy, you should probably be aware that the federal Liberals are contemplating pretty much exactly that for the digital world. — Huffington Post
The Act does not require individualized suspicion as a basis for information sharing amongst government agencies. There is no impediment in the Act to having entire databases shared with CSIS or the RCMP. The standard for ‘sharing’ is very, very low. — BC Civil Liberties Association

The use of IMSI catchers (“StingRay”) to capture cellular traffic around Capital Hill in Ottawa has people upset. The R.C.M.P., Winnipeg and Vancouver police have used the same technology since 2005 without clear oversight.

It's hard to think of a clearer invasion of privacy. It's like the police reaching into your pocket and examining your wallet, [except instead] they've reached into your cellphone by tricking it into communicating with the police equipment instead of a real cell tower. — Defence Lawyer Alan Gold

Balancing Privacy and Security

Law enforcement agencies are clamoring for even easier access to meta-data. We are fast approaching the very definition of a police state where everything about you is openly known by the police.

I don't want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded. — Edward Snowden
Everyone can agree that the police and national security agencies need adequate tools to protect us, and that these tools need to be adapted to the digital world.

But state powers have already been significantly expanded, particularly with Bills C-51 and C-13. At the same time, we have seen too many cases of inappropriate and sometimes illegal conduct by state officials that have impacted on the rights of ordinary citizens not suspected of criminal or terrorist activities. In my view, those serious incidents were caused by deficient legal standards that failed to set appropriate limits on government actions.

These key lessons from history remind us that clear safeguards are needed to protect rights and prevent abuse, that national security agencies must be subject to effective review, and that any new state powers must be justified on the basis of evidence. Government should only propose and Parliament should only approve new state powers if they are demonstrated to be necessary and proportionate — not merely convenient. — Privacy Commissioner Therrien
A lot of what classifies as terrorism in the political context — individuals that the news calls terrorist — are really common criminals. But they do not constitute the kind of super criminal threat that is represented by our terrorism legislation. — Edward Snowden

CSIS a de facto Secret Police

We're at a tipping point where we need to decide whether to continue evolving into a surveillance society, or whether to rein in the government's spying apparatus before more lives are ruined by information disclosures. — OpenMedia
While a democracy can incorporate the need for an intelligence agency to operate with considerable secrecy, there is no place in a democracy for a secret police. Full stop. — BC Civil Liberties Association

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Recommended Reading

“Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World” by Bruce Schneier

Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier is an imperative read for everyone. Read the introduction.

The powers that surveil us do more than simply store this information. Corporations use surveillance to manipulate not only the news articles and advertisements we each see, but also the prices we're offered. Governments use surveillance to discriminate, censor, chill free speech, and put people in danger worldwide. And both sides share this information with each other or, even worse, lose it to cybercriminals in huge data breaches.

Much of this is voluntary: we cooperate with corporate surveillance because it promises us convenience, and we submit to government surveillance because it promises us protection. The result is a mass surveillance society of our own making.

But have we given up more than we've gained?

In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He shows us exactly what we can do to reform our government surveillance programs and shake up surveillance-based business models, while also providing tips for you to protect your privacy every day.

You'll never look at your phone, your computer, your credit cards, or even your car in the same way again.

Recommended Documentaries

Frontline: ‘United States of Secrets’

Frontline's United States of Secrets is a powerful look at the dangerous spying by the NSA on their own citizens and the revelations following the release of the Snowden documents.

Frontline investigates the secret history of the unprecedented surveillance program that began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and continues today.

The two-part series is available on Netflix:

Episode 1 shows how the dangerous plan to greatly increase the power of surveillance on the American (and international) public was secretly authorized with the stated goal of finding unknown terrorists within our midst.

Several members of the NSA and other government bodies opposed the plan on the basis that it overstepped the requirements and undercut civil liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution without any real oversight.

Episode 2 looks at the increasing commercial surveillance by companies like Google and later Microsoft, Facebook and others to generate massive advertising income. This information was later co-opted by the NSA and, in the process, further eroding every citizen's privacy. There is no evidence that any of this surveillance has made us any safer (think of the Boston Marathon attacks — the sort of event this program was supposed to prevent).

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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