On Data Privacy Day, Reclaim Your Privacy Rights
Today, on Data Privacy Day, reclaim your privacy rights. And the right to control the data collected by telecom companies such as Bell, Rogers and Telus.
Over the past few months, Canada’s law enforcement agencies have been relentlessly campaigning for the right of warrantless access to Canadians’ personal information, including the data collected by telecom companies. Lately, Canadian government agencies have been seeking “telecom user data at ‘jaw-dropping’ rates.”
University of Ottawa professor and Internet law expert Michael Geist argued in a recent piece:
In today’s communications driven world, no one collects as much information about its customers as telecom companies. As subscribers increasingly rely on the same company for Internet connectivity, wireless access, local phone service, and television packages, the breadth of personal data collection is truly staggering.
Whether it is geo-location data on where we go, information on what we read online, details on what we watch, or lists identifying with whom we communicate, telecom and cable companies have the capability of pulling together remarkably detailed profiles of millions of Canadians.
Data Privacy Day commemorates the 1981 signing of Convention 108, a legally-binding international treaty that seeks to protect privacy and data.
Here are a few resources that will help you reclaim your privacy:
The Vancouver-based organization “works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.” OpenMedia’s fight against former prime minister Stephen Harper’s draconian anti-error law, Bill C-51, is legendary. Lately, the organization’s bloggers have been blogging like crazy. Check out Laura Tribe’s recent piece, which explains how “encryption backdoors put us all at risk.”
Harvard’s Data Privacy Lab
The Data Privacy Lab “offers thought leadership, research, and discussion on privacy and technology.”
The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is “the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world.” It recently launched Spying on Students, an “online resource dedicated to helping students, parents, teachers, and school administrators learn more about the privacy issues surrounding school-issued devices and cloud services.” Highly recommended.
Access Now “defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world.”
The organization recently facilitated a joint letter calling on world leaders to protect encryption, signed by 195 companies, organizations and individuals from 42 countries.
Recent court rulings
Recent privacy-related rulings by Canadian courts and the federal privacy commissioner strongly suggest that telecom and Internet providers have a legal obligation to defend their subscribers’ privacy interests.
Ruling in the 2014 R. v. Spencer case, the Supreme Court of Canada found “a reasonable expectation of privacy” in the information telecom companies collect from their subscribers. According to the Court:
The disclosure of this information will often amount to the identification of a user with intimate or sensitive activities being carried out online, usually on the understanding that these activities would be anonymous.
In other words telecom companies approached by law enforcement agencies can tell the cops to go right back downtown and come back with a warrant.
In the recent R. v. Rogers Communications case, the the Peel Regional Police had asked Rogers and Telus to surrender the billing data of every subscriber connected with certain cell towers, including subscribers located outside the towers in question. The telecom companies challenged the police order in court.
The Ontario Superior Court ruled that the police’s order was unconstitutional, and that the telecom companies had an obligation to defend their subscribers’ privacy.
In 2015, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada ruled that Bell’s so-called “Relevant Advertising Program,” which involved “tracking the Internet browsing habits of customers, along with their app usage, TV viewing and calling patterns,” raised serious privacy concerns.
This week, an Ontario judge ruled against a man who published a sexual video of an ex-girlfriend on the Internet without her permission. According to the judge: “In the electronic and Internet age in which we all now function, private information, private facts and private activities may be more and more rare, but they are no less worthy of protection.”
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