Last year I was invited to submit a brief to the Canadian Parliament’s Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee. For my submission (.pdf), I tried to capture some of of the preliminary research findings that have been derived from social media and surveillance project I’m co-investigating with Colin Bennett. Specifically, the brief focuses on questions of jurisdiction, data retention, and data disclosure in the context of social media use in Canada. The ultimate aim of the submission was to give the committee members insight into the problems that Canadians experience when accessing the records held by social networking companies.
The project, and our research for it, has been funded through the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s Contributions Program. Anything contained in the brief is not necessarily representative of the Office’s own positions or stances.
In this submission, I highlight some of our analyses of 20 social networking sites’ privacy policies and findings about Canadians’ ability to access their own personal information that social networking sites store. These findings let us understand how the companies running these services understand their legal jurisdictional obligations and the retention of personally identifiable information. Moreover, these discoveries let us ascertain the actual access that Canadians have to profiles that they and the identities that networking services Canadians associate with are developing. Together, these points reveal how social networking companies understand Canadians’ personal information, the conditions of data sharing, and the level of ease with which Canadians can access the information that they themselves contribute to these services. I conclude this submission by suggesting a few ways that could encourage these companies to more significantly comply with Canadian privacy laws.
Download (.pdf) “Social Networking and Canadian Privacy Law: Jurisdiction, Retention, and Disclosure“
I’ll be speaking at a forum about Canada’s forthcoming lawful access legislation on February 8 at St. Paul University. From 6pm-7pm there will be the formal book launch of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ recent title, The Internet Tree: The State of Telecom Policy in Canada 3.0. Those attending the forum may be particularly interested in the two chapters on surveillance (one of which I authored). The lawful access event runs from 7-10PM. From 7:00-7:30 the organizers will be showing the mini-documentaries “(Un)Lawful Access” and “Moving Towards a Surveillance Society.” Following this, there will be two panels to discuss the expected legislation. The first (which I’m on) runs from 7:30-8:30 and discusses the technical elements of the forthcoming legislation. The panel is composed of myself, Kirsten R. Embree, Stephen McCammon, and John Lawford. The second panel runs from 8:45 to 9:30, and focuses on the political dimensions of the legislation. Panelists include Charlie Angus and Elizabeth May, with Michael Geist moderating. The final 30 minutes are devoted to summarizing the forum, outlining actions that are taking place, and suggesting continuing activities.
For more information about the event, see Unlawfulaccess.ca, and register for the event on Facebook. You can also download/print/share copies of the poster for the event. This will be a really great event, and the mixture of formally separated technical and political panels should do a great job in outlining the range of issues that lawful access legislation touches upon.
New surveillance powers are typically framed using benevolent and/or patriotic languages. In the United States, we see the PATRIOT Act, the Stored Communications Act, and National Security Letters. Powers associated with this surveillance assemblage have been abused and people have been spied upon in violation of the law, bureaucratic procedure, and regardless of demonstrating real and present dangers. The UK has the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which significantly expanded the capabilities of police and intelligence to monitor citizens in previously illegal ways. This legislation is also used improperly, as revealed in the yearly reports from the Interception Commissioner. In Canada, the Canadian government has publicly stated its intention to press ahead and introduce its lawful access legislation despite concerns raised by the public, members of the advocacy and academic community, and the information and privacy commissioners of Canada. Here, we can also expect uses of lawful access powers to overstep stated intents and infringe on Canadians’ rights, intrude upon their privacy, and injure their dignity.
Over the past months I’ve been actively involved in working with, and talking to, other parties about lawful access legislation. This has included speaking with members of the media, publishing an op-ed, and conducting various private discussions with stakeholders around Canada who are concerned about what this legislation may (and may not) mean. Today, in the interests of making public some of the topics of these discussions, I want to address a few things. First, I quickly summarize key elements of the lawful access legislation. Next, I note some of the potentials for how lawful access powers will likely be used. None of the potentials that I identify depend on ‘next generation’ technologies or data management/mining procedures: only technologies that exist and are in operation today are used as mini-cases. None of the cases that I outline offer significant insight into the operational working of stakeholders I’ve spoken with that can’t be reproduced from public research and records. I conclude by questioning the actual need for the expanded powers.
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The Offensive Internet: Speech, Privacy, and Reputation is an essential addition to academic, legal, and professional literatures on the prospective harms raised by Web 2.0 and social networking sites more specifically. Levmore and Nussbaum (eds.) have drawn together high profile legal scholars, philosophers, and lawyers to trace the dimensions of how the Internet can cause harm, with a focus on the United States’ legal code to understand what enables harm and how to mitigate harm in the future. The editors have divided the book into four sections – ‘The Internet and Its Problems’, ‘Reputation’, ‘Speech’, and ‘Privacy’ – and included a total of thirteen contributions. On the whole, the collection is strong (even if I happen to disagree with many of the policy and legal changes that many authors call for).
In this review I want to cover the particularly notable elements of the book and then move to a meta-critique of the book. Specifically, I critique how some authors perceive the Internet as an ‘extra’ that lacks significant difference from earlier modes of disseminating information, as well as the position that the Internet is a somehow a less real/authentic environment for people to work, play, and communicate within. If you read no further, leave with this: this is an excellent, well crafted, edited volume and I highly recommend it.
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I don’t like violence, vandalism, or other actions that generally cause destruction. Certainly there are cases where violent social dissent is a sad but important final step to fulfil a much needed social change (e.g. overthrowing a ruinous dictator, tipping the scale to defend or secure essential civil rights) but riotous behaviour following a hockey game lacks any legitimating force. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of game seven between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins a riot erupted in downtown Vancouver that caused significant harm to individuals and damage to the urban environment.
The riot itself is a sad event. What is similarly depressing is the subsequent mob mentally that has been cheered on by the social media community. Shortly after the riot, prominent local bloggers including Rebecca Bollwitt linked to social media websites and encouraged readers/visitors to upload their recordings and identify those caught on camera. In effect, Canadians were, and still are, being encouraged by their peers and social media ‘experts’ to use social media to locally instantiate a human flesh search engine (I will note that Bollwitt herself has since struck through her earliest endorsement of mob-championing). Its manifestation is seemingly being perceived by many (most?) social media users as a victory of the citizenry and inhabitants of Vancouver over individuals alleged to have committed crimes.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have significant issues with this particular search engine. In this post, I’m going to first provide a brief recap of the recent events in Vancouver and then I’ll quickly explain the human flesh search engine (HFSE), both how it works and the harms it can cause. I’m going to conclude by doing two things: first, I’m going to suggest that Vancouver is presently driving a local HFSE and note the prospective harms that may befall those unfortunate enough to get caught within its maw. Second, I’m going to suggest why citizens are ill-suited to carry out investigations that depend on social media-based images and reports.
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The abstract for my presentation, as well as references, have already been made available. I wasn’t aware (or had forgotten) that all the presentations from Social Media Camp Victoria were going to be recorded and put on the web, but thought that others visiting this space might be interested in my talk. The camera is zoomed in on me, which means you miss some of the context provided by slides and references to people in the audience as I was talking. (Having quickly looked/listened to some of what I say, I feel as though I’m adopting a presentation style similar to a few people I watch a lot. Not sure how I think about that…The inability to actually walk around – being tethered to the mic and laptop – was particularly uncomfortable, which comes across in my body language, I think.)
Immediately after my presentation, Kris Constable of PrivaSecTech gives a privacy talk on social media that focuses on the inability to control personal information dissemination. Following his presentation, the two of us take questions from the audience for twenty or thirty minutes.