Your Privacy at Risk
A Lot to Absorb
This page has a lot of information on it. The issues are complex and have significant implications for our future as a free society.
Privacy is a multi-faceted concept. It's not one size fits all and is approached differently by governments, businesses, and consumers.
However, there are practical privacy standards that can and should be used as a foundation upon which we build our digital world. — Ghostery
People don't really understand privacy nor value what they've given away.
People often don't think about their rights until they need them -- whether it's when they're arrested at a protest or pulled over for a routine traffic stop. — ZNet
The purpose of this page is to open your eyes to what is happening.
Privacy in a Pandemic
COVID-19 has affected many areas of our lives, none more so than our privacy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been unlike anything before in modern times, both in its scope and in its impact upon our everyday lives.
There is little point in making people aware without providing solutions.
In the same way you protect your physical privacy with locks on your doors and curtains on your windows, you must protect your virtual privacy.
Privacy a Basic Human Need
Privacy is a basic human right according to the UN:
No one must be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. — Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12
Privacy is power over your own information, required for dignity and respect.
If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated, sold, or even leaked in the event of a hack, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human. We deserve better. You deserve better. — Apple CEO, Tim Cook
Not About Hiding Something
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.
— Bruce Schneier: The Eternal Value of Privacy
Instead, we should be examining the motives behind those using the “nothing to hide” mantra. What are they trying to hide?
- Three reasons why the "nothing to hide" argument is flawed.
- "I have nothing to hide. Why should I care about my privacy?".
- Why should I care about privacy, when I have nothing to hide?
Privacy isn't Secrecy
Privacy isn't about secrecy, which implies that citizens have no right to either.
Don't confuse privacy with secrecy. I know what you do in the bathroom, but you still close the door. That's because you want privacy, not secrecy. — Fábio Esteves
Privacy Laws Outdated
The laws that govern the ability of our government to collect this information are woefully out of date and severely inadequate to the task within a connected world.
The Privacy Act, which oversees the [Canadian] government's use of your data, came into effect in 1983 — years before the Internet, or cell phones. — OpenMedia
The right to check your computers and devices at the border depends upon a law intended for inspection of physical (paper) files.
Legislation surrounding personal privacy are outdated and regularly abused. Attempts at new legislation demonstrates how little our MPs and MLAs understand the concepts of privacy, especially when lobbyists seem to have more say than citizens.
EFF's transition memo discusses surveillance, encryption, broadband, copyright and other issues where privacy legislation has not kept up with technology and general practices.
Surveillance Threatens Freedom of Speech
Surveillance is commonly associated with dictatorships where open expression of opinions is harshly punished.
Unfortunately, this has become commonplace in “democratic” societies.
Governments and police agencies are demanding unrestricted access to our personal information and an end to encryption
No Exposure to Opposing Viewpoints
Too often our news and social media presents only one point of view, our selection of media based upon what we already believe.
We should be extremely careful before rushing to embrace an Internet that is moderated by a few private companies by default, one where the platforms that control so much public discourse routinely remove posts and deactivate accounts because of objections to the content.
— Washington Post
It is this refusal to hear opposing viewpoints that is destroying democracy, not dissenting voices.
Creativity and Personal Expression Stifled
Surveillance stifles personal expression.
We don't feel as free to express our creativity when our conversations or Internet activities are being monitored.
Think of how you feel when your boss is standing behind you while you work or when a police car is following you in traffic.
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
Society Needs to Choose
We can have security or surveillance but not both.
We need to choose between security and surveillance. It's just not possible to build electronic devices that keep data secret from everybody except, say, government officials trying to track the movements of terrorists. Everybody gets to spy or nobody gets to spy. — Bruce Schneier on BBC
We don't have to choose between security and privacy. We can have both.
- Nothing To Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security a book by Daniel J. Solove.
- The eternal value of privacy an essay by Bruce Schneier.
- Appeals court affirms NSA surveillance can be used to investigate domestic criminal suspects.
More about why privacy matters:
- Mozilla's The Glass Room is a 3D virtual reality tour of the ways our privacy is invaded by devices and corporations.
- A Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic examines government back doors as privacy abuse.
- Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters — TEDGlobal October 2014.
We're being spied upon constantly. By our governments and by businesses.
Governments seek to collect and store virtually everything about their own citizens including their online activities. Everyone is considered guilty.
A lot of people assume that those who are under surveillance are quite deserving of that surveillance. That is not true. — Mailyn Fidler
Protection from Terrorism
The “official” purpose of NSA (and Canadian) collection of personal phone records is to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Following the attacks on September 11, 2001 we've been faced with unprecedented attacks on personal freedom by governments worldwide.
Although poorly understood at the time, one of the biggest long-term impacts of the September 11 attacks was expanded surveillance in the United States and other democracies, by both public and private sectors.
The stakes are high. If democracies fail to turn the future of global surveillance in their favor, digital authoritarian competitors stand ready to offer their own model to the world. — Nicholas Wright
We're No Safer
The resulting surveillance is incredibly invasive to our privacy.
[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. — EFF
This abuse of privacy cannot be justified by any improvements in public safety from terrorist threats since it was introduced
No serious, verifiable evidence has been produced by the proponents of compulsory suspicionless [bulk] data collection to show that the data mining and profiling by means of the bulk data in general… is even suitable to the ends supposedly being pursued — let alone that it is effective. — BCCLA
Collecting information based upon a warrant issued by a judge in a public court can be seen as justice.
However, collecting information on innocent citizens based upon warrants issued by secret courts just in case it may be useful in the future is hard to justify.
All this access has a very low threshold, partly because of a U.S. court decision that stated that if third parties have access to your information, a warrant shouldn't be needed for the government to access it.
I doubt our governments would be amused if we used the same argument to obtain non-public government documents.
Protection Against Terrorism Undeliverable
Unprecedented government spying on their own citizens has resulted in NO significant reductions in terrorism that could not have proceeded otherwise.
Democracy and privacy are the victims, not terrorism.
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
The loss of our privacy is unacceptable.
If you're willing to sacrifice some freedom to feel safe, you deserve neither. — Thomas Jefferson
The Surveillance Economy
The traditional marketplace of buying and selling using a set price has been replaced with a surveillance economy where access to private data is exchanged for goods and services.
Unlike the up-front cost of purchased products, this new model simply collects information without revealing either the value or the cost in terms of privacy. It is a very one-sided bargain.
Social media is one of the most obvious examples.
Personal information is collected and monetized by social media companies using facial recognition software, comparative and linked data (such as the Facebook "Like" button) and more.
Most, if not all, social media data is being stored outside Canada and doesn't have the protections afforded by Canadian law (minimal as that legal protection currently is).
The Email Connection
The fact that users login using their email address provides a strong link to other data about that user.
Most Canadians now use webmail which is stored on servers in the US 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.
Even if they claim not to view your emails, the metadata (information needed to transport and store emails) will tell them a great deal. How is Gmail sorting your emails into categories without viewing at least some aspects of your emails.
The Cell Phone Connection
Your cellular provider is collecting and sharing personal information.
Cellphones provide very precise 24/7 location data. While it is extremely handy to know where the nearest coffee shop or grocery outlet is located, that same information is provided in reverse. The cell company always knows where you are.
Your cellular provider already tracks your physical location at all times: it knows where you live, where you work, when you go to sleep at night, when you wake up in the morning, and — because everyone has a smartphone — who you spend time with and who you sleep with. — Bruce Schneier
We've voluntarily provided governments and corporations with massive amounts of private information that used to be cost-prohibitive to collect — and we pay some of the highest prices in the world for that privilege.
We love cell phones. We love them to death. For all kinds of reasons. I mean, can you imagine?
Suppose twenty years ago Congress had proposed a law saying every citizen had to wear a radio transponder around his neck, all day and all night, so the government could track him wherever he went. Can you imagine the outrage?
But instead the citizens went right ahead and did it to themselves. In their pockets and purses, not around their necks, but the outcome is the same. — Lee Child, A Wanted Man
If the government said you have to have a tracking device, for certain you would rebel. 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 on BBC
Capturing Private Data without a Warrant
Geofencing, stingray and other cell-tracking technologies reveal a lot about individuals that have nothing to do with the warrant (if one is even obtained).
The Canadian government raised a stink when cell-tracking technologies were used near federal facilities in Ottawa. They obviously are more concerned with their privacy than ours.
Your Devices Are Watching You
Can anyone really have total confidence in what these machines overhear and where those recordings might appear? Sometimes, such speakers have deliberately recorded your conversations. To help create a better product for you, of course. — ZDNet
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.
Any bed that monitors your heart rate, breathing, and movement could allow people with access to that data to determine when you get up in the morning, when you go to bed at night, or even when and how often you have sex. — Mozilla
The reason I smartened up my house was to find out whether it would betray me. — The House That Spied on Me
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.
This isn't an isolated incident. Vizio surrendered to a lawsuit charging them with collection viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs.
Apple Airtag Trackers
Apple Airtags are very small tracking devices that you can attach to items like your purse, your keys, etc. so you can find them. It works on the same principle as Find My Phone.
Airtags track things out of normal Bluetooth range by being part of Apple's huge network of phones.
As a Bluetooth tracker, AirTags are extremely accurate in terms of location tracking, but that's also their downfall. Safety alerts or not, I shouldn't be able to track anyone or anything beyond Bluetooth range. — Mashable
While Airtags only work with Apple devices (an Android app is planned), The Tile is a similar third-party product that can be tracked on iOS, Android and Windows devices or by using Amazon's Sidewalk.
[O]dds are good most people purchasing Amazon gear will have no idea what Sidewalk is, nor stumble across it in their device's options and disable it. — Lifehacker
How to Opt Out of Amazon Sidewalk
- Open your Alexa app (if you have a Ring, but not an Alexa, go to your Ring Control Center in the app to opt-out).
- Open More. Open Settings.
- Select Account Settings.
- Select Amazon Sidewalk.
- Turn Amazon Sidewalk to OFF.
If you've seen the commercials for the Amazon Ring camera, you'd think crime was rampant in your neighbourhood.
The Ring is a door bell/video camera that allows you to see who is at your door even when away from home. Sounds like a great security tool, right?
Crime Rates Dropping
The commercials are intended to increase your anxiety to sell devices. Crime rates have been dropping for years. Instead, Amazon is creating a network of video cameras used by police everywhere without obtaining a warrant.
By sending photos and alerts every time the camera detects motion or someone rings the doorbell, the app can create an illusion of a household under siege. It turns what seems like a perfectly safe neighborhood into a source of anxiety and fear. — EFF
Ring owners can share video from their Ring's camera with other Ring owners as well as provide that footage to local police without a warrant. Even if you don't have a Ring, your neighbour's Ring shows everything going on at your house.
Gizmodo calls Ring a “quasi-surveillance network” that has exposed users' real-world locations in the past and questions the safety of Amazon Sidewalk.
Issues with facial recognition complicates matters. It isn't as straight forward as TV crime dramas would have you believe.
[E]ven when facial recognition works as expected, it's often used to surveil people of color. Amazon's Ring doorbell cameras pose similar risks, because Ring shares its footage with law enforcement through its Neighbors Law Enforcement Portal, which has been called the "perfect storm of privacy threats." — Mozilla
- Tell Amazon Ring: stop sharing information with police.
- Consumers deserve to know how the internet-connected devices they buy for peace of mind can actually create massive surveillance networks.
Partnerships with Police
Many local police departments have been working with Amazon to increase the number of cameras to gain access to footage. But there are issues.
In just a year and a half, Amazon's Ring has set up more than 500 partnerships with law enforcement agencies to convince communities to spy on themselves through doorbell cameras and its social app, Neighbors.
The company is moving recklessly fast with little regard for the long-term risks of this mass surveillance technology. These partnerships threaten free speech and the well-being of communities, vastly expand police surveillance, undermine trust between police and residents, and enable racial profiling by exacerbating suspicion and paranoia. — EFF
Law enforcement partnerships with @ring don't make neighborhoods safer—they turn our front doors into vast, unaccountable surveillance networks. — EFF on Twitter
Many people feel safe with a printed document, assuming it can't be traced.
The US 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.
Privacy information begins at the video's 24:24 mark but I strongly recommend watching the entire presentation.
Apple Treating Privacy Differently
It doesn't have to be like that. As we move into an era where more and more personal data is required in order to provide services that require personal data like map services, health information tracking, etc. Apple wants to have your trust. They make their money on products, not by monetizing the data required to operate these devices.
[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. — The Washington Post
Current Trends Contrary to Privacy
Current trends in the US are contrary to this protection and it will be an uphill battle.
Not only is this culling of data extremely profitable, but these companies spend a great deal of money lobbying for a relaxation of existing laws. Even politicians that should be protecting our rights want to know the demographics that will get them re-elected regardless of the threat to our privacy.
- Save Broadband Privacy.
- Congress repeals Internet privacy rules.
- Snoops may soon be able to buy your browsing history. Thank the US Congress.
There are bound to be abuses by law enforcement of any tracking system.
No Privacy for Canadians in the US
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 US 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.
OpenMedia runs campaigns around specific privacy issues where you can add your voice in calls for government officials to act.
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.
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.
Episode 1 (Transcript) 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 US 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).