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Surveillance & Society: Talkin’ About A Revolution

To kick off 2013, Policy Director Micheal Vonn and Board Member Reg Whitaker contributed to the journal Surveillance & Society. Read their full pieces below.

Talkin’ About A Revolution

by Micheal Vonn, Policy Director

Micheal Vonn

Question 1: Where Are We?—Sanitation Engineering Suddenly Very Sexy 
Simon Davies, one of the world’s foremost privacy experts, used to say that privacy advocates are the sanitation engineers of civil liberties: we don’t have a very sexy job, but boy-howdy, is it important. While once a true portrait, this is no longer quite as apt because privacy is increasingly becoming sexy. On one side of the ledger, this is an exciting development. Ordinary, non-policy-wonk people are increasingly voicing concerns about privacy and surveillance, especially in the online context. This shift is in part a success of increased education and advocacy. But in the main, this heightened awareness and engagement is a reflection of how dire things have become. We are reaching a crisis point that is increasingly palpable. In other words, ‘sanitation engineering’ is suddenly sexy because people are starting to understand in a big way that we are in deep sh**.

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The Curious Tale of The Dog That Hasn’t Barked (Yet)

by Reg Whitaker, University of Victoria and York University


We begin in the fall of 2001. In the immediate shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the Canadian Parliament debated the Anti-terrorism Act 2001. Despite its title, this legislation was something of a mini-omnibus bill, a national security act covering a range of security issues beyond terrorism. However, there was one clearly identified gap. Unlike the USA Patriot Act, rushed precipitously through the US Congress, the Canadian legislation contained no provisions for enhanced electronic surveillance of internet communication. Instead, the government promised to follow up with further legislation addressing this latter issue, with a nod toward the 2001 European Convention on Cybercrime as a broad set of guidelines. The impression left by government spokespersons was that new communication technologies and a deregulated telecommunications environment required some serious legislative upgrading and modernization of electronic surveillance rules to meet the threat of terrorism and international organized crime. The expectation was that the new legislation would follow expeditiously, although there would be time for public and industry consultation before a final draft was prepared.

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