Blogs & Comment

Canadians A-OK with government surveillance: Samson Okalow

Boldly typical?

(Photo: Robert Daly/Getty)

(Photo: Robert Daly/Getty)

A new survey for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority by Ipsos Reid reveals some information about attitudes toward government surveillance that some might find troubling. Well, excluding most Canadians.

Apparently playing the “if you have nothing to hide” card, 49% of Canadians believe it’s OK for the government to monitor e-mail and online activities in some circumstances. Throw in the magic word “terrorism” and that number jumps to an impressive 77%.

Various commenters like Internet law expert Michael Geist and CIRA head, Byron Holland, expressed dismay if not surprise, at the results, which were released August 28. Holland said in a statement, “Has our moral compass shifted enough in the decades since [the MacDonald Commission of the 1970s] that we’re now OK with governments tracking our every move?”

I’m not particularly surprised by the results. When I wrote about surveillance and equities performance in the wake of the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, I contacted several major Canadian polling firms to inquire about Canadian opinion. What did surprise me was that none of them had done any polling on the issue of privacy and government surveillance. It simply wasn’t on the radar (although one pollster did remark that now that I’d mentioned it he thought such polling would be a “great idea”) and that could well be reflective of the general complacency CIRA identifies in its comments.

But Canadians would do well to pay critical attention because it could affect both business and personal life. In the case of the former, not just negatively either–if you believe in silver linings. Fallout from the Snowden leaks could actually create opportunity for an enterprising soul. As Robert Half, head of the Canadian Cloud Council, recently wrote, “I suggest we leverage [Snowden’s] clean conscience as an opportunity to finally start building a viable Canadian cloud IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] ecosystem. One that can compete with the Amazons of the world, not just because it is built across Canadian data centers, but one that can compete globally on its own uniqueness and merit.”  Don’t knock it: some in Europe, including the French and Germans, are calling for the development of native cloud services.

That said, CIRA says it wants to see a “national dialogue” about the issue. It’s urging Canadians to use its online forum. The full survey and methodology is here (PDF). It’s all worth checking out, even if you’re Canadian.