Privacy Plan

Chapter 1: Outlining Canada’s privacy deficit




In this section of our report, we examine in detail some of the legislation, agencies, and technologies that have led to our current lack of legal protection against large-scale breaches of privacy and online spying.

Canada’s privacy deficit has widened alarmingly in recent years — largely as a result of the current government’s overt legislative initiatives and covert authorization of mass surveillance activities.

These overt and covert actions have exploited the fact that fast-paced technological growth has outstripped the ability of our privacy laws to keep up. The Internet, one of humanity’s greatest inventions, now risks becoming a dangerous tool of mass surveillance.

Our privacy laws are designed for another age. We have strong safeguards to prevent the government from opening letters sent by mail. However, the situation online is much different: governments have gained the ability to keep track of where, when and to whom digital messages are sent. If we expect privacy over our pen-and-paper postage system, why should our online communications be any different?

After all, if the government proposed building a system to keep track of the who, where, and when of our postal correspondence, Canadians would be outraged.

Yet we know from multiple reports that Canada’s electronic eavesdropping agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), along with its ‘Five Eyes’ partners (the U.S., U.K., Australian, and New Zealand surveillance agencies) is spying on private online activity on a massive scale.

It is clear that when it comes to Canada’s privacy deficit, many troubling factors are at play. Over the past decade, the government has greatly expanded the funding25 and powers of spy agencies such as CSE, and its partner agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

At the same time, the government has introduced a series of legislative initiatives that dramatically expanded the power of the state to spy on its citizens, while doing nothing to update our privacy protections.

Meanwhile, public officials have left citizens largely in the dark when it comes to their government’s spying capacity. Much of what we know about the CSE’s activities comes not from the work of our resource-starved official watchdogs, but instead from whistleblowers like Edward Snowden.

Despite being excluded from high-level decisions impacting their privacy, members of the public are now beginning to demand answers about how much their right to privacy is being compromised and why.

Internet Voice: “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.” - Katherine M.

The time has come for Canadians to examine the accountability and functionality of their state surveillance apparatus. Canadians need to ask searching questions: How is our government undermining our right to privacy without our consent? How specifically will legislation like Bills C-51 and C-13 undermine our digital privacy? What impacts will our loss of privacy have on democratic participation? How will the loss of privacy rights impact our daily lives?

Internet Voice:  “It is a threat to autonomy, trespass to the mind. Your most basic human right is your right to be yourself.” - Sal R., high school student

Given that we know government surveillance capabilities are expanding rapidly, it is imperative that Canadians engage in an open, informed, democratic discussion surrounding their right to privacy in a digital age. Clearly, privacy rights are already under siege. Sadly, the current government’s culture of secrecy acts as a serious impediment to ensuring surveillance issues get the rigorous debate they deserve.

The following three case studies will examine some of the core dynamics at play when it comes to contemporary threats to online privacy in Canada. We will take a detailed look at Bill C-51, the government’s new so-called “Anti-Terrorism Act”. We will outline what’s known about how the CSE is undermining the privacy of Canadians and people around the world. Finally, we will review how Bills C-13 and S-4 have weakened key privacy safeguards.

We believe these case studies make clear that there is an urgent need for sustained, systematic action to address our privacy deficit before it’s too late.


[25] The Globe and Mail: Spy agency’s budget hit $460 million after ‘steady path’ of growth. Source: