From the House – Do you ever worry about your privacy being violated?


John Rafferty MPTHUNDER BAY – Leader’s Ledger – Do you ever worry about your privacy being violated? You should. Often our privacy is preyed upon, legally and illegally, by corporations and criminals in search of profit and personal gain.

Governments too have always posed a challenge to personal privacy, but the latest and perhaps greatest threat to the privacy of Canadians came last week with the introduction of the Harper government’s Bill C-30.

Whenever I speak with people about their privacy concerns, three types of potential violators are usually mentioned; criminals, corporations, and governments. The criminal threat is clear enough to identify and understand and usually involves perpetrators seeking money or power at the expense of the victim. Credit card scams, email hacking, and identity theft are generally the criminal behaviours that most people fear. These types of threats are pretty black and white and governments of all political stripes have made combating such crimes a high priority in recent years.

Corporations are also a huge threat to our privacy. Websites like Google and Facebook actively track our internet behaviour, friendships and personal networks, physical location, and buying habits to a startling degree. More traditional companies, such as large department stores and pharmacies, acquire and store our personal information via their loyalty rewards programs and credit cards and often sell our information to third parties. All companies have the opportunity to misuse our personal information intentionally, but can also become victims themselves when their mountain of data is illegally accessed or stolen by others. These types of privacy violations are a little harder to identify and protect against since many people fail to understand just how much corporations legally know about us and how great this threat to our privacy actually is.

The third type of threat to our privacy that is most often mentioned to me is that posed by governments. The term ‘Big Brother’ is often used to describe someone’s worst fears; a totalitarian or authoritarian government that constantly monitors and knows every detail of the personal lives of its citizens. While expressing their concerns about intrusive government, people generally agree that our democratic governments need to know a good deal about us in order to protect and serve us better, but to a person agree that there must be a balance between public and private interests. A free and democratic government should simply have no need to track every move, purchase, friendship, email, or thought of its citizens. This, unfortunately, is where the Conservative government and Stephen Harper seem to have gone off the deep end.

In a clumsy effort to combat the manufacture and distribution of child pornography, the Harper government introduced Bill C-30 last week. If C-30 passes, it would ensure that every move we make on the internet is tracked by our internet service provider – our physical location, who we email and what we say, which websites we visit, when we visit them, and for how long would all be meticulously tracked. The federal government, public service, and local, provincial, and national police would all have access to this information as well if they are able to obtain a warrant, but in some ‘special’ cases they would be able to obtain it simply by asking the service provider for it. Oh, and C-30 would cost taxpayers $80 million to help the internet providers collect this information, and for the privilege of being spied on by our own government.

I’m sure you will agree that stopping the manufacture and distribution of child pornography and improving the health and well-being of our children is something that we must work towards on a daily basis. But do we have to give up our basic rights and freedoms to do it? Does the Harper government really need to know about our every move on the internet? Will C-30 mean the end of child pornography? I would argue the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no, and want to assure you that my New Democrat colleagues and I stand with you and your right to privacy and against all criminals, corporations, and governments who seek to violate it.

John Rafferty MP
Thunder Bay Rainy River

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.