Privacy Plan

Chapter 4: The Process: Working toward a crowdsourced pro-privacy agenda


As a community-based organization, participatory values are something OpenMedia holds dear. We believe that often the best ideas come from our community, and we strive to crowdsource wherever we can. Our community often inspires us to push our work further than we ourselves would have imagined when embarking on a project.

Our experience with a wide range of privacy campaigns and initiatives has helped shape this project from beginning to end.

Canada’s Privacy Plan has been especially informed by OpenMedia’s engagement work over the past 24 months. We gained invaluable experience through this extensive engagement work that enabled us to identify the key issues we wanted to address through this crowdsourcing project.

Since our organization first engaged on privacy issues, our community has been clear that they wanted a voice in important decisions that affect their daily lives. In contrast to a government that seemed intent on exploiting secrecy around spy agency activities to further undermine Canadians’ privacy and exclude citizen voices from the debate, we decided to develop our plan through an open, transparent, and democratic process that all Canadians were invited to take part in.

The response to Canada’s Privacy Plan, and to the series of pro-privacy activities and campaigns that led up to it, was fantastic. Over 125,000 Canadians have engaged directly with our privacy work over the past year. And over 10,000 people, from every province and territory in Canada, took the time to provide us with detailed feedback about what they wanted to see done to tackle our privacy deficit.

One of the greatest successes of this project has been the creation of a vibrant pro-privacy community from across Canada and across the political spectrum. We hope this community will continue to play an integral role in safeguarding our privacy rights and our democratic values. And we hope that decision-makers will listen to this community, and ultimately recognize that privacy rules should be created not behind closed doors, but through the participation of all Canadians.

What is crowdsourcing?


But crowdsourced volunteering activities are going far beyond coding or simple information sharing. Today, crowdsourcing is used to create and increase collective knowledge, community building, collective creativity and innovation, crowdfunding, and civic engagement.” -- The role of crowdsourcing for better governance in fragile state contexts. 2014, Maja Bott, Bjorn-Soren Gigler, and Gregor Young

Crowdsourcing is the process of problem solving by seeking solutions through an open and public platform and in particular, through web-based technologies. Crowdsourcing comes from the technology sector, where it has been applied as a novel method of generating creative solutions; civil society groups and governments are only beginning to recognize that the public and web-based nature of crowdsourcing means it has potential applications for participatory democracy, and could be a new means of drafting public policy.

Like most serious experiments with using technology to transform democracy, crowdsourcing is in its nascent stages. As a result, there are many questions surrounding the effectiveness of crowdsourcing at creating practical and inclusive public policy. Crowdsourcing experiments will encounter problems with the clarity, accuracy or representativeness of the input they obtain, and will need to seize these experiments as learning opportunities – they closely resemble the flaws we find in our current representative democratic processes, such as elections and regulatory hearings. As well, many of the social inequalities and exclusions that exist offline exist online as well -- in some cases, they are even more pronounced.

Nonetheless, we firmly believe in the potential of the Internet to revolutionize democratic decision-making, and that it is up to us to harness it. When it comes to the Internet and the age old matter of who gets what, where and when, it is important that those who will most feel the impact of decisions be in the driver’s seat rather than unelected bureaucrats and lobbyists. This is precisely why we believe that when making laws that will greatly affect the future of privacy safeguards, the first step should be to experiment with new forms of decision-making, such as crowdsourcing, that allow Internet users to inform law-makers about the real impacts that different approaches will have on their daily lives. By carrying out this experiment in crowdsourcing, we offer lawmakers insights into the expertise of the Internet community, the values that they hope will guide the evolution of our online culture, and their aspirations for our digital future.

Our Drag-and-Drop Crowdsourcing tool:


The drag-and-drop tool, launched in October 2014, formed the foundation for our analysis of Canadian Internet users’ perspectives on privacy, and allowed us to come up with the three recommendations outlined in this report, as well as the more specific policy agenda in the Executive Summary of this report.

We worked with leading experts and organizations in the Protect Our Privacy Coalition to identify a basic set of policy issues pertaining to the government’s collection and use of citizen data. We created an attractive online survey, featuring a drag-and-drop tool to enable Canadians to rank their privacy priorities.

The drag-and-drop tool questions were shaped by input from many people, including OpenMedia staff and community members, and colleagues and organizations from the Protect Our Privacy Coalition. We wanted our questions to reflect a broad approach to the complex issues around privacy, rather than focusing them on any one specific area.

Once the tool was designed and launched, we conducted outreach in multiple ways (including extensive social media publicity, and emails to OpenMedia’s community of over 125,000 supporters engaged with our privacy work) to give Internet users the chance to participate, and ensure a sizeable “crowd” behind our crowdsourcing.

The public input phase of the crowdsourcing tool lasted until the end of November, after which we commenced collation and analysis of the results.

Our Drag-and-Drop tool that participants used to provide feedback for this report

Events reviewed as part of our consultation:


February 2014 & February 2015: Annual Privacy and Security Conference, Victoria, B.C.

This conference is a key annual event for people working in the privacy and security fields in Canada. OpenMedia’s Steve Anderson made a presentation about key privacy and surveillance issues at both the 2014 and 2015 annual conferences. The conference attracts senior attendees from government, privacy organizations, and private industry, and offered an ideal opportunity for us to share ideas, and collaboratively identify key issues and privacy challenges.


May 2014 - Politics of Surveillance Workshop, Ottawa

We supported dozens of top Canadian privacy experts by hosting and helping to launch the Ottawa Statement on Mass Surveillance, which sets out high-level recommendations on how to rein in out-of-control government surveillance.

This statement was originally crafted on the occasion of the launch of the book Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada / Vivre à nu: la surveillance au Canada, at the ‘Politics of Surveillance Workshop’.184 This event brought together in Ottawa, Canada, May 9-10, 2014, an international group of academics and advocates to debate the various political, legal, social and technological strategies for challenging mass surveillance, protecting civil liberties and advancing democratic rights.

Over 35 academics and 19 organizations endorsed the statement. The statement is hosted on OpenMedia’s website at, with a French-langauge version available at


October 2014: Privacy Coalition consultations

We held a consultation call, approximately 1 hour in length, with individuals and organizations involved in the Protect Our Privacy Coalition to discuss our crowdsourcing project. We also held a number of one-on-one calls and in-person meetings. Although the project is not an official coalition initiative, it benefited a great deal from the skills, expertise, and experience of coalition members, many of whom also helped us publicize our crowdsourcing tool.


October 2014 to January 2015: In-person Crowdsourcing Events (Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax)

Although the drag-and-drop tool was primarily designed to be used online, we also created an offline version of the tool for use at in-person events. With the assistance of volunteers, we helped organize three in-person events as part of our crowdsourcing process - one each in Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax. We also offered participants at these events an opportunity to provide open-ended feedback.

OpenMedia led two educational events on privacy issues at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association annual event for 16-17 year old high school students. Our privacy campaigner David Christopher delivered an interactive presentation outlining the key privacy challenges facing Canadians today. Following Q&As, we followed up with a pen-and-paper exercise that enabled all the participants to take part in our privacy crowdsourcing initiative.

Our Montreal event was organized by the OpenMedia McGill club, while our Halifax event was organized by local university student volunteers. We received plenty of positive feedback after each event, and it seemed students really appreciated the opportunity to make their voice heard in shaping pro-privacy recommendations.

OpenMedia's Jes Simkin and David Christopher at a crowdsourcing event hosted by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association in Vancouver


November 2014 - Facebook Town Hall:

As part of our crowdsourcing work for this project, OpenMedia hosted a Facebook Town Hall on Privacy Issues.185

Tom Henheffer, executive director of our privacy coalition partners at Canadian Journalists for Free Expression co-hosted the event with our Steve Anderson. We had a lively discussion, as Steve and Tom fielded questions from Canadians on privacy issues.

The NDP’s digital issues critic Charmaine Borg also joined the debate. We reached over 46,000 people with this event, and input from this Town Hall helped shape this report.

Spotlight: Key milestones in our campaign to safeguard privacy


June 2013: No Secret Spying campaign:

Over 16,000 Canadians signed our petition, which was launched in response to the first round of revelations about CSE and NSA surveillance of law-abiding citizens. We worked with 15 other organizations on the campaign, including which co-hosted the campaign with OpenMedia.


October 2013 - Launch of the Protect our Privacy Coalition

In late 2013, responding to growing concerns from our community, we worked with dozens of other organizations to form the Protect our Privacy Coalition. Our community strongly emphasized the need to work together to sustain a nationwide movement to fight for stronger legal safeguards to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada.

This coalition has grown steadily to include over 60 major organizations, including innovative technology companies, public interest groups, unions, and small businesses. Underlining that privacy is not a partisan issue, the coalition brings together organizations from across the political spectrum. You know you’ve hit on a common Canadian value when you have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Council of Canadians participating in the same coalition.

The coalition acts as a platform for these diverse voices to work together on privacy issues. Coalition members have agreed to support a straightforward statement calling on decision-makers to support stronger legal privacy safeguards. Since the launch, over 40,000 individual Canadians have signed on to endorse this statement.

"More than ever, Canadians need strong, genuinely transparent, and properly enforced safeguards to secure privacy rights. We call on Government to put in place effective legal measures to protect the privacy of every resident of Canada against intrusion by government entities." - Protect our Privacy Coalition statement


October 2013: Joint announcement with BCCLA of landmark constitutional challenge against CSE spying:

We worked with our Privacy Coalition partners at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), to jointly announce their landmark legal challenge aimed at stopping illegal spying on Canadians. The challenge was filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on October 22nd last year.

OpenMedia’s responsibility was the launch of a nationwide campaign in support of the lawsuit. We launched an action page to enable any Canadian to pledge their support - over 12,800 Canadians took this pledge.

We organized a joint press conference with the BCCLA and worked to secure extensive national and international media coverage of the lawsuit. The Globe and Mail also published a supportive editorial shortly after the announcement.


December 2013: Infographic about CSE spying

In the six months since Edward Snowden first blew the whistle on NSA and CSE surveillance, our community had been asking questions about exactly what CSE’s spying and data collection could reveal about their private lives.

We worked with leading Canadian privacy experts to answer these questions. We prepared a detailed infographic, highlighting how the types of metadata collected by CSEC can reveal intimate details about our lives - including our political beliefs, medical conditions, financial status, religious convictions, and sexual orientation.

This infographic was shared widely on Facebook, Twitter, and by members of the Privacy Coalition. It also serves as a handy go-to resource for explaining just how intrusive CSEC’s spying and data collection activities really are. Many journalists have already used it as a reference point. It can be viewed at


January to December 2014: Campaign against Bill C-13:

Throughout 2013, we warned our community that the government was gearing up to reintroduce online spying legislation - despite its promise not to do so following the defeat of controversial Bill C-30, which was withdrawn after over 150,000 Canadians spoke up against it.187

We were therefore unsurprised when Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced new online spying legislation under the guise of tackling cyberbullying. On the day of his announcement, we worked with privacy experts to analyze the proposed legislation (Bill C-13), and were quickly out with a media release highlighting how the legislation contained just 2.5 pages about cyberbullying, alongside 65 pages about online spying.

We followed up by working with other members of the Privacy Coalition to oppose the legislation. We also secured the support of the Official Opposition for our proposal to split the bill, so that measures tackling cyberbullying could be dealt with separately.

In March, we released a hard-hitting video highlighting how the bill would grant immunity to telecoms who hand over Canadians’ private information to authorities without a warrant. This video was widely viewed and shared on social media.

In the end, over 73% of Canadians opposed the Bill, including a large majority of conservatives.188 Despite this, the government succeeded in pushing the legislation through Parliament, and it became law in early 2015. A number of the recommendations of this report are designed to address the threats posed by Bill C-13 to Canadians’ privacy.

February to November 2014 - Toronto Star privacy op-ed series:

We arranged for a hard-hitting series of op-eds about privacy issues to run in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper. Contributors included Derek James From (Canadian Constitution Foundation), Cindy Blackstock (First Nations child advocate), Steve Anderson (OpenMedia), and Phillip Djwa (Agentic).


February 2014 - Social Media Town Hall about CSE spying

With new stories breaking regularly about CSE spying, we decided to bring together two of Canada’s leading privacy advocates for a Social Media Town Hall - Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), and our own Steve Anderson, Executive Director of OpenMedia.

We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to talk directly with Josh and Steve - so we threw the doors open to all Canadians on Facebook,189 Reddit,190 Google+,191 Twitter, and our website.192

It turned into a fascinating discussion, covering issues including the court case OpenMedia helped the BCCLA announce last October, whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects us from spying, the information that metadata can reveal, and even whether the Canadian government is allowed to get other countries to spy on Canadians.


February 2014 - Day We Fight Back international campaign:

OpenMedia played a key role in organizing ‘The Day We Fight Back’, a global campaign aimed at pressuring decision-makers to stop invasive spying. We were involved in organizing this day of action in Canada,193 the United States,194 and internationally.195

In Canada, we worked with our Privacy Coalition partners to create an interactive website with new online tool to enable Canadians to contact their local MP, to urge them to take a pro-privacy commitment to introduce effective legal measures to protect Canadians’ privacy from government spying.

In the United States, we were part of the core group organizing the Day We Fight Back action. We succeeded in reaching over 37 million people, delivering over 555,000 emails and 89,000 phone calls to Members of Congress.

Internationally, we teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to rally support for the Necessary and Proportionate International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance. Over 245,000 people from around the world signed up to support these principles.

Over 14,000 Canadians took part in the Day of Action, and we secured pro-privacy pledges from senior MPs. We have now turned this ‘Day Way Fight Back’ website into an ongoing effort to encourage MPs to make a pro-privacy commitment. It is available at


March 2014 - Letter to the Editor tool:

We know from experience that getting letters published in local newspapers is one of the most effective ways to amplify Canadians’ voices across the country.

However we know that people can sometimes find writing such a letter a daunting prospect. OpenMedia launched an easy-to-use letter to the editor tool, to make the process of sending a letter to local newspapers as straightforward as possible.

The tool included prepared talking points, and automatically identified local newspapers based on an individual’s postal code. It also sent the citizen’s letter directly to those newspapers. We know that making this process smooth greatly increases the number of letters sent and published in newspapers across the country.

Canadians from coast to coast have used our Letter-to-the-Editor tool to successfully publish letters in dozens of major Canadian newspapers.196 The tool is available at


May 2014 - Defend Digital Privacy campaign:

Our Defend Digital Privacy campaign was launched in May 5, 2014. The campaign urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take responsibility for spy agency surveillance and for the online spying legislation his government was trying to force through Parliament.

Over 11,500 Canadians signed on to support this campaign, along with a number of leading pro-privacy organizations. The campaign website is at:


June 2014 - Access My Info tool:

We worked with privacy experts at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and Digital Stewardship Initiative to offer Canadians a new way to learn more about the information being collected about them by their telecom provider. A new online tool simplifies the process of requesting information from telecom providers about the information they collect, and about their disclosure of personal information to third parties.

The Access My Info tool creates a formal letter which, under Canadian privacy law, telecom companies are legally obliged to respond to within 30 days. The launch received solid media coverage.197 Over 5000 Canadians have used the tool, which is available at We also surveyed users of the tool about the responses they received from telecom providers, and input from this survey helped shape the recommendations of this report.


June 2014 - Steve Anderson’s Crowdsourced Parliamentary Testimony on C-13

On June 3, 2014 OpenMedia’s Executive Director Steve Anderson testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding Bill C-13. To help bring the concerns of Canadians to the Parliamentary committee Steve crowdsourced his opening presentation referencing some of their input directly from time to time. Input was collected from OpenMedia’s website, reddit, Facebook and Twitter.

The Canadians Steve heard from had three main concerns about Bill C-13 that he highlighted:

1. Immunity for activities that victimize innocent Canadians

2. Accountability and oversight

3. Data security

The input gathered for Steve’s testimony also helped shape this report and its recommendations.


October 2014 - Video launch about CSE spying

OpenMedia worked with Dafne Melania, a talented local design volunteer, to produce a high-quality online video that makes the CSE’s spying activities tangible for everyday Canadians.

The video launch was a big success, with plenty of partners supporting the launch by sharing it with their communities. It was watched over 15,000 times on YouTube and also helped focus media attention on the issue of CSE spying. You can watch the video at:


Early 2015 to date: The campaign:

Since the government first announced Bill C-51 in late January, OpenMedia has worked extensively with a diverse range of organizations to rally opposition to the legislation.

Working with the BCGEU and, we helped organize a National Day of Action which saw large street protests take place in over 70 communities across Canada.

We are also co-hosting the action page, which over 108,000 people have used to speak out against the bill. Our Steve Anderson delivered this petition to Parliament, during his crowdsourced testimony about Bill C-51 before the National Security and Public Safety committee.

The page also includes a wide range of downloadable and shareable resources which members of the public are encouraged to use to campaign against the bill. OpenMedia has also built a Letter to the Editor tool to help people spread the word in local communities, as well as a tool to make it easy for people to contact their local MP. These tools are available at and respectively.

OpenMedia is also working with partners on a national Week of Education about the bill, that aims to raise awareness of the impacts the legislation will have on Canadians’ daily lives. This week has been timed to coincide with the Easter break when MPs will be at home in their ridings, prior to returning to Ottawa to vote on the bill.

OpenMedia’s Steve Anderson delivers a 100,000-strong petition to Parliament.