10,107 Canadians used our crowdsourcing tool to provide specific input for this report, which we added to feedback from the over 125,000 Canadians who have been involved in our wider privacy work.
Canadians from every province and territory took part in this project:
Our final survey comprised 8 questions, covering a broad range of privacy-related topics. These questions were shaped by input from a diverse group of privacy experts and public interest organizations.
Q1. How would you rank these Privacy Priorities?
The first question asked participants to rank six proposals in order of priority if they were developing privacy safeguards relating to government entities. We used a drag-and-drop tool format which presented the proposals in a randomized order to each new participant.
Participants ranked these six proposals in the following order:
- Require a warrant for govt to spy on personal information
- End blanket surveillance of law-abiding people
- More transparency around govt collection of personal data
- Tough penalties for when govt breaks privacy laws
- Privacy rules should be shaped democratically
- Independent oversight and review of spy agencies
In determining the aggregate rankings, each priority level (1-6) was assigned a corresponding numerical value, ranging from 0.6 for Level 1 to 0.1 for Level 6. Submissions from participants were then evaluated according to this scale, leading to a cumulative priority index (pi) for each proposal.
The following chart indicates the aggregate priority rankings for the respective privacy proposals:
By far the most preferred priorities were to require the government to obtain a warrant before spying on personal information, and to end blanket surveillance of law-abiding people. Both these priorities were significantly ahead of the other options.
The common theme here is a disinclination to support surveillance aimed at innocent citizens - Canadians clearly reject the notion of blanket ‘catch-all’ surveillance, popularized by the former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander’s phrase “collect the haystack and search for the needle later”. And Canadians perceive warrant requirements as the best way to prevent innocent people being caught in these kind of wide-reaching surveillance dragnets.
Interestingly, the order was somewhat different if we look solely at what participants chose as their top priority from the six options available. The following chart sets out the percentage of participants who chose each respective option as their top privacy priority:
Again we clearly see that ending blanket surveillance (28.1%) and warrant requirements (22.7%) came in significantly ahead of the other options available. Significantly more participants chose blanket surveillance as their top priority over any other issue. 15.5% of respondents chose “Privacy rules should be created democratically” as their top priority, while 13.6% wanted more transparency over government collection of personal data.
Q2. In what circumstances should government agencies, such as CSE, CSIS, or law enforcement, be able to access the sensitive, personal information of Canadians?
When presented with a range of options, Canadians overwhelmingly believe government agencies should require a search warrant based on evidence that a crime is soon to be, or has been, committed in order to access citizens’ personal information.
93.8% of participants chose this option, with just 5.4% willing to allow police officers to conduct searches based merely on suspicion. Only 0.4% believed personal information should be generally available to government agents, and a further 0.4% said police should be allowed to access information based on broad demographic descriptions (such as “all middle-aged white females living in Hamilton”.)
This is clearly a vocal endorsement of the robust approach taken to digital privacy in the Supreme Court’s R. v. Spencer case, and a rejection of government attempts, such as in Bill C-13, to make a wide range of personal information available to law enforcement without a warrant.
Q3. Do you think that government agencies such as CSIS and the RCMP should use public resources to monitor peaceful individuals, organizations, and advocacy groups not posing any known threat to national security?
This question was prompted by revelations that, according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, a wide range of civic interest groups had been subject to sustained surveillance from CSIS and the RCMP over a lengthy time period. Groups subjected to surveillance included the Council of Canadians, the Dogwood Initiative, the Sierra Club of British Columbia, and ForestEthics Advocacy.
The surveillance took place despite RCMP analysts concluding that they had “not identified any threats or criminal activity”.
Participants were overwhelmingly opposed to the use of public funds to monitor peaceful individuals, organizations, and advocacy groups. 92.2% opposed using public resources in this way. Just 2.2% supported the concept, while 5.5% said they were not sure.
Q4. What scrutiny mechanisms do you believe are appropriate to ensure spy agencies like CSE and CSIS are held accountable to taxpayers? (check all that apply)
Our fourth question asked participants whether or not they supported implementing a range of potential proposals aimed at improving the public accountability of surveillance agencies like CSE and CSIS.
The options presented covered improved oversight, Parliamentary Review, establishing a U.K.-style Information Commission, public disclosure, and stronger powers for agencies tasked with safeguarding privacy. Respondents could pick more than one of these options.
Of the 1772 participants who responded to this question, there were strong majorities in favour of each of the proposals set out.
- 87.8% favoured empowering an independent, arms-length body to oversee spy agencies and issue regular reports to the Canadian public that are not subject to pre-approval from the government of the day.
- 81.8% favoured requiring spy agencies to publicly disclose how many times they intercept Canadians’ personal communications, and what they are doing to protect our privacy.
- 71.3% favoured stronger powers and greater resources for agencies tasked with safeguarding Canadians’ privacy.
- 63.9% favoured establishing a cross-party committee of MPs to provide stronger parliamentary review of spy agency activities.
- 62.2% favoured establishing a U.K.-style Interception Commissioner to review the interception of communications and the acquisition and disclosure of communications data by intelligence agencies.
The greatest degree of consensus was around proposals to improve independent oversight of spy agencies, and to ensure that spy agencies themselves are required to disclose how often they intercept the personal communications of Canadians.
Notably, there was a significantly higher majority in favour of achieving independent oversight through an independent, arms-length body rather than through a cross-party committee of MPs or a U.K.-style Interception Commissioner.
Q5. What do you believe a new, pro-privacy law (or reforms to existing laws) needs to include if it is to effectively safeguard our privacy from government entities? (check all that apply)
This question focused on what respondents believed any new pro-privacy reforms should include if they were to effectively safeguard Canadians’ privacy from the government. Again, respondents could pick more than one option if they wished.
Of the 1764 participants who responded to this question, strong majorities expressed support for each of the proposed new safeguards:
- 94.7% favoured rules to prevent telecom companies from handing their customers’ personal information to third parties (e.g. copyright trolls) without a court order.
- 89.1% favoured ensuring all surveillance activities require a warrant approved by a judge.
- 89.1% favoured forbidding the government from spying on the private communications and activities of law-abiding citizens, whether domestically or through international partners, without a warrant issued by an open court.
- 83.1% favoured requiring government agents at all levels to document all activities, decisions, and processes that may impact on the privacy of law-abiding Canadians.
- 80.4% favoured ensuring the government notifies law-abiding Canadians when it requests their personal information from telecom providers.
- 79% favoured stronger protections to prevent agencies like CSE, CSIS, and the RCMP from collecting the sensitive personal information of Canadians.
Again we see a strong demand that a warrant or court order should be required before government agencies or other third parties can access the personal information of Canadians.
This is in line with responses to questions 1 and 2, where warrant requirements were also heavily favoured.
Q6. Earlier this year, the Privacy Commissioner made a number of key recommendations to help safeguard Canadians’ privacy from spy agencies including CSE. Which of these recommendations do you believe should be implemented?
In January 2014, the then federal Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier published a Special Report to Parliament entitled Checks and Controls: Reinforcing Privacy Protection and Oversight for the Canadian Intelligence Community in an Era of Cyber-Surveillance.
Pointing out that the Privacy Act remains “essentially unrevised since 1983”, Commissioner Bernier stated that:
The aim of renewal in this area should be to protect privacy in a complex threat environment; oversee collection so that it is reasonable, proportionate and minimally intrusive; ensure appropriate retention and access controls (among both public and private actors); ensure accuracy of analysis; and control the scope of information requests and disclosures through specific safeguards, agreements and caveats.
Commissioner Bernier’s report made a series of detailed recommendations aimed at safeguarding Canadians’ privacy against this backdrop. The Commissioner’s key recommendations received broad support from the participants who responded to this question:
- 94.1% supported ensuring that an independent and non-partisan Parliamentary committee is empowered with the necessary security clearance to conduct a comprehensive review of existing oversight mechanisms - at present there is no independent oversight of CSE. Just 1.7% were against and 4.3% were unsure. (n=1737)
- 91.8% supported requiring CSE to produce regular unclassified reports describing its ongoing activities, and to publish statistics on the number of times they intercept Canadians’ personal information on behalf of other government agencies. Just 2.1% were against and 6.1% were unsure. (n=1686)
- 88.2% supported strengthening existing reporting mechanisms, including requiring spy agency chiefs to testify regularly before Parliamentary committees. Just 2.1% were against and 9.8% were unsure. (n=1740)
- 87.6% supported strengthening existing laws to “curb over-collection” of our personal information by government entities. Only 1% were against with 11.4% unsure. (n=1723)
- 84.2% supported preventing spy agencies from monitoring personal information published on sites like Facebook without a “legitimate reason”. 7.9% were against and 7.9% were unsure. (n=1732)
Each of the Privacy Commissioner’s proposals received widespread support— with particularly strong support for creating an independent, security-cleared, non-partisan Parliamentary committee to review how CSE is overseen.
Q7. The CSE Commissioner is responsible for ensuring CSE doesn’t break the law. He reports to the Minister of Defence, who also oversees CSE. Do you believe the CSE Commissioner should be made independent of govt agencies directly involved with CSE?
This question focused on the independence of the CSE Commissioner, whose office is responsible for making sure CSE doesn’t break the law.
Participants overwhelmingly wanted to increase the independence of the CSE Commissioner. 86.8% supported making the CSE Commissioner independent of government agencies involved with running CSE. Just 3.2% were against this proposal with 10.1% unsure.
Q8. Let us know your thoughts on what needs to be done to better safeguard the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities:
Over 600 participants used this open-ended question to provide us with often detailed feedback. We’re grateful to each and every one of them for taking the time— their input played a significant role in shaping this report.
While we don’t have the space to list all 602 responses here, the following comments provide a flavour of the feedback we received:
Soraya M. “Follow democratic principles and protect Canadians from being watched without a warrant or justification.”
Steve F. “If we spied on the government, imagine the crimes we'd prevent!”
Maureen Y. “Our electronic mail should have the same safeguards as our physical mail has had for over a century. The government should require a warrant to read any citizen's communication no matter the form of transmission of that communication.”
Andrew J. “I am a card carrying Conservative member that does not agree with the current direction and lack of transparency the Government is taking in regards to protecting the privacy of Canadians over the right to security. I do not want quick reactionary legislation as it does not fully take into account the citizens' rights and needs.”
Amanda T. “If you want my personal information, you'd better have a warrant first.”
Assya M. “We NEED to set up some good safeguards to protect citizen's privacy. Privacy is a right and one of the most pressing issues of this digital age.”
Jeff C. “We need oversight, from the courts, and from an independent privacy commissioner (with some real authority to take action when CSIS or the RCMP step outside of their boundaries).”
Linda W. “Too much information is poor information. Sifting through mega data requires too many generalities and leads to erroneous conclusions. Let's keep our security defence practical and respectful of Canadian values.”
David C. “A judge must be consulted each and every time a government agency wants to invade the privacy of individuals, and the judge must be free from government influence or interference.”
Katherine M. “The pendulum has swung WAY too far in the direction of limiting our privacy. Standards need to be adjusted to make privacy the default and transparency must be mandatory.”
Mohammed V. “Stop passing Bill C-13 now because it does not protect Canadians from cyberbullies, it violates their privacy laws. Bill C-13 is just a lie, to trick you into thinking that they will protect you from cyberbullies even though they are becoming the bullies by watching or monitoring all of your activities online and on multiple devices.”
Anne-Marie S. “Part of the deal in being a citizen of a free society is the expectation that our personal affairs and physical person are inviolable as long as we remain within the law. In addition, how can we realistically claim free speech as a right if the vast power of a government can be turned, as it so often has during Stephen Harper’s tenure, against a citizen who holds views that members of the government don’t appreciate?"
James N. “If I send a personal letter in the mail to someone I don't expect it to be opened and read by some government agent. The same privacy expectations should hold true for communication via the internet.”
Angela W. “Warrant required for all searches and requests for private information and strong laws punishing those who try to get around it and/or break the laws regarding privacy.”
Kay A. “Warrant, Warrant, WARRANT!”
Vincent R. “Try actually ASKING Canadians what we want to happen. By attempting to "force through" your unconstitutional bill by using the attack on Parliament as a scapegoat, you are letting terrorism rule over us.”
Konstantin V. “Do not spy on us, we are not in prison.”
Brian V. “These over-reaching laws have not helped Canadians. The security of where the information is stored is not reliable or safe. The actions taken have not been legal, transparent or ethical. Spy agencies are suppose to ignore regular and non-criminal people to focus on real threats. Not harass and criminalize innocent people. The Canadian government and spy-agencies can do a better job.”
Lorraine R. “Perhaps it would help if the privacy issue were made an election issue, during which it should be made clear this isn't about spying on 'the other guy' but could be about spying on anyone/everyone.”
Susan C. “Our sensitive, private information is being handed over at an alarming rate. Many are not even aware that it is being done. This has to stop. It is a violation of our Rights. It is unconstitutional. Many citizens are not aware of this and I personally have seen people become outraged, shocked and stand in disbelief when they are made aware that agencies like Border Security can access their medical records.”
Will F. “Get the prime minister to read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Make sure he doesn't have a big fat felt marker on him. Or an eraser.”
Sandra B. “The govt needs to stop trying to spread fear and stop spying on law abiding citizens.”
Grant P. “The oversight committee should be made up of a body of 9 with 3 appointed by each of the 3 major parties. If not 9 then some equal number from each of the 3 main parties.”
Megan T. “Restriction of warrantless surveillance and data-mining, especially of non-publicly available information; non-partisan oversight of how entities perform/use surveillance; limitation on storing information and developing technical protocols for protecting and eventually deleting gathered information.”
Evan P. “We need to close the recently widened loophole that allows our spy agencies to ask other spy agencies to spy on Canadians on their behalf.”
Jawed I. “The government (whichever party is in power) must be transparent with all the activities they are engaging in that violate citizens privacy and must publish reports of their activities.”
Rachel C. “If the privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians are compromised we will have broken with perhaps the best descriptors a country can proudly bear: Strong & Free. Government in Canada needs to implement measures that raise awareness around our privacy rights and freedoms. They also need to do more to empower upcoming generations who value freedom of information."
Robert M. “In less than 25 years all privacy rights for Canadians will have vanished. If the people do not speak up now it will be too late.”
Mike G. “Individuals who suspect they are being monitored illegitimately should have access to a no-cost, independent vehicle to consider their case and report out as necessary with a result of - no illegitimate monitoring is taking place, or illegitimate monitoring is taking place.”
Roxane T. “It is clear that we need some kind of watchdog, with a bite, to protect law-abiding citizens privacy. Safety is never a good reason to spy on everyone.”
Kelly M. “It's simple. Clear and Transparent oversight. If people know their decisions will be scrutinized and that unauthorized or frivolous use of the power to invade citizens privacy will be punished then it won’t be abused.”
Mike T. “Items key to Canadians privacy as a whole such as the TPP treaty currently being decided behind closed doors should be transparent. The fact that industry lobbyists are writing the proposed legislation and we as the Canadian public are being kept in the dark is very disturbing.”
Janyce K. ”As to the very first question, choosing 1-6 priorities, you need a comment section on it. My opinion, they are ALL #1 priorities. Get the fear-mongering bureaucrats and 'security' officials out of our lives and keep them out..."
Duane M. “Bad things occur every day. Giving up freedom for the illusion of safety is not a good bargain. The people should not be afraid of the government, which already has way too much power.”
Derek W. “Government agencies and the individuals who work within them must be directly held accountable for violations of privacy. There needs to be jail time, not just financial penalties, as these penalties will be paid out of taxpayer coffers anyways.”
Sam B. “Basically, security should not be led by the party leading the government. It should be something made of a balanced selection of all elected MPs. Also, security and fear should never be allowed more importance than freedom and rights.”
Lauren V. “Collection of data should be restricted to information that people share publicly, unless there is reason to believe a crime may be committed, and in that case, a warrant should be required. The government should be required to destroy data on law abiding citizens after a short period of time.”
Heather I. “Don't just create the legal framework for bodies doing oversight. They must be given adequate funding.”
Jennifer L. “Ensure that anyone responsible for third-party review of CSEC has no stake in finding errors or not finding errors. Personal or professional affiliation with anyone within CSEC must be avoided to maintain transparency.”
Valerie B. “I think Canada would benefit immensely from having a national conversation about privacy rights more generally - why we have them, why it's important that they be safeguarded for everyone. I've heard a lot of "if you've got nothing to hide" talk, which I feel puts Canadians at odds with each other. When the government and the corporate owned media control the message, the voices of ordinary Canadians is lost, and in a democratic state we ought to be considering those voices in a conversation about how best to protect us all.”
Jocelyn N. “I think the "independent group" who monitors CSEC should be totally independent, not part of the government in any way, shape or form. They should be accountable to the public alone, especially if our tax dollars go into the development of said program.”
Brent M. “Protection of privacy and strong safeguards and oversight of any collection of private data is of paramount importance if our democracy is to thrive. We cannot forego our privacy out of fear. Without a court order issuing a warrant, no governmental agency should be allowed to request private data on citizens' communications or activities, and corporations or other 3rd parties who violate this privacy should be subject to legal sanction.”
Clara S. “During my years at UBC, I took several courses dealing with political issues in the Soviet Union. Spying on citizens and using fear tactics to keep people contained, obedient, and quiet should be a thing of the past. Should. I refuse to let fear make decisions in my life. I hope my political leaders do the same.”
Kevin C. “Blanket surveillance of Canadians who have broken no laws, and have not presented themselves to be a known threat should be banned. An agency should only be able to monitor an individual with Just Cause. Just Cause should be clearly defined and continuously monitored to reduce the use of loopholes and grey areas.”
Michael B. “‘Domestic spying’ is a euphemism for ‘police state.’ A police state is not the product of a government with a sound mind. Instead of scrutinizing the people of Canada, perhaps we ought to be officially scrutinizing our would-be officials before (and after) allowing them to assume responsibility for our representation.”
Sarah B. “I think the intrusion of the government on our rights to privacy is of utmost concern. I feel more threatened by the unchecked power of our government than by most other real or PERCEIVED threats. We need a government that is interested in the civil liberties and happiness of the population it represents.”
Marc K. “0% tolerance to government/RCMP/CSEC or any other agency, group, entity of the government, foreign or domestic, monitoring personal data. Personal data may be reviewed when: A crime has been committed, with a suspect then under investigation for said crime, warrant to glean past personal data issued by a judge, signed off by the head of an independent oversight group.”
Steve S. “A budgetary limit should be placed that adequately represents to value the agency provides Canadians. A billion dollar facility is just complete irresponsible spending. A billion dollars in health care would have saved more lives in one month than a spy agency could even help in several decades.”
Devon M. “A complete new draft of a new set of laws that would set multiple levels of safeguards and oversight, without requiring anything that would lead to government secrets being leaked.”
Patricia M. “I am really disturbed by the government's lack of transparency and accountability. We need independent, non-partisan oversight of all surveillance activities. And for there to be full public disclosure thereof; and further sharp penalties for intruding on the privacy of citizens without a warrant… I do not want to live in a police state. That is not what it means to be Canadian and I would like our government to remember that.”
Here is a sample of comments we received from participants at our high school event hosted by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association:
Sal R. “It is a threat to autonomy, trespass to the mind. Your most basic human right is your right to be yourself.”
Darragh L. “Privacy is important to me because I would like to not have every detail about me known. We are on the precipice of an Orwellian society.”
Michael F. “Privacy is an intrinsic human right. We shouldn’t be surveilled without reason even if it creates an environment of social control for an ‘optimum society’. It is Orwellian.”
Michaela: “No one should be allowed to go through your stuff. If you’re doing something wrong, get a warrant. The government would flip if you spied on their databases.”
Joyti D. “Privacy is important to me because I don’t want strangers to know everything about me.”
Felix C. “Privacy is one of the biggest constitutional rights we own, cousin to freedom of speech. No one should be able to delve into someone’s mind, not even our ‘democratically’ elected government.”
Alex S. “There are places where you should not feel threatened. For example, if you are on Facebook you shouldn’t be scared that something you say or post will have negative impacts against you. Though I do agree with monitoring dangerous targets with a warrant.”
Keenan S. “Privacy is important to me because it shapes my behaviour online, and it also allows me to participate in the online community without fear of being persecuted or spied on.”
Kurtis “Privacy is important because I’d prefer if the government didn’t know I went to an OpenMedia lecture about the trouble with Canadian government spying.”
Melissa B. “No one wants all their personal information collected and analyzed for the government to make a complete profile of you and everything you’re doing.”
Key input from organizations involved in the crowdsourcing process:
We also invited a range of organizations involved in the privacy sphere to provide input as part of our crowdsourcing process. Here’s what they had to say:
B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association: B.C FIPA is a non-partisan, non-profit society that was established to promote and defend freedom of information and privacy rights in Canada. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is Tough penalties for when government breaks privacy laws, followed by Require a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, and End blanket surveillance of law-abiding people.
Canadian Access and Privacy Association: The Canadian Access and Privacy Association is a national non-profit organization whose goals are to promote knowledge and understanding of access and privacy laws and experiences in Canada. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is ending blanket surveillance of law-abiding people, followed by requiring a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, and privacy rules being shaped democratically.
Canadian Constitution Foundation: The Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) is a registered charity, independent and non-partisan. They defend the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians in the courts of law and public opinion. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is ending blanket surveillance of law-abiding people, followed by requiring a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, and more transparency around govt collection of personal data.
Canadian Institute of Access and Privacy Professionals: CIAPP is a volunteer-based organization run by access and privacy professionals. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is ending blanket surveillance of law-abiding people, followed by requiring a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, and tough penalties for when government breaks privacy laws.
National Council of Canadian Muslims: The National Council of Canadian Muslims is an independent, non-partisan and non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the human rights & civil liberties of Canadian Muslims (and by extension of all Canadians), promoting their public interests and challenging Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is Privacy rules should be shaped democratically, followed by End blanket surveillance of law-abiding people, and Tough penalties for when govt breaks privacy laws.
National Firearms Association: The National Firearms Association of Canada works for and with Canadian gun owners. The NFA keeps gun owners informed about current and pending legislation and ensures that gun owners know their rights under Canadian law. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is ending blanket surveillance of law-abiding people, followed by requiring a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, and tough penalties for when government breaks privacy laws.
PEN Canada: PEN Canada is one of the 148 centres of PEN International. Founded in 1926, it has a membership of over 1,000 writers and supporters who campaign on behalf of writers around the world who are persecuted, imprisoned and exiled for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Their top priority in terms of developing new privacy safeguards is requiring a warrant for govt to spy on personal information, followed by independent oversight and review of spy agencies, and ending blanket surveillance of law-abiding people.