Privacy and social media

The Canadian government has decided to monitor all forms of public social media in the country.  CTV news reported that “soon tweets, public Facebook posts, and YouTube videos could be subject to scrutiny round-the-clock by the federal government.”

According to a procurement notice, Supply Arrangement with Public Works and Government Services Canada seek a “supply arrangement with Public Works and Government Services Canada to provide a range Media Monitoring Services to meet the needs of Federal Government Departments and Agencies on an “as and when requested” basis.”  The Federal government will examine the content of each social media post and predict the outcome of their influence.  The project will run from February 2015 to January 2019.


CBC News reported that “Big Brother is watching you — on just about every social-media platform you can imagine.”  Digital public affairs analyst Mark Blevis of says analysing social media acts as an “early warning system” to inform agencies of potential criminal activity.  “But then on another level, it’s open data, it’s open information. If it’s publicly accessible, why should the government have any less privilege accessing it than anyone else in the public eye?”

Canadians and privacy: survey

In an April 2013 report by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “Canadians are increasingly anxious about privacy in the face of new technology.”  The study surveyed 1,513 Canadians from October 25 to November 12, 2012.  With regards to online privacy, the study found that “a majority of Canadians are very concerned about posting information online about their location, contact information, personal photos and videos, information about social activities, and personal opinions.”


Source: Canadians and Privacy Survey, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Level of personal privacy

Interestingly, Canadians stated that they are extremely troubled about their level of personal privacy.  “Concern about privacy protection (scores of 6-7) was higher among women (45%), college (46%) and university graduates (44%), and Ontarians (48%) compared to Quebeckers (39%) and British Columbians (35%). It also increased with age (from 27% of those under 25 to 46% of those 55+).”


Source: Canadians and Privacy Survey, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Justified cause for concern?

The American government has been monitoring the Internet for several years now.

Wolf Blizter, journalist and CNN television news anchor, says “that the scope of the American government Internet monitoring programs is immense.”  It is a program designed to examine and evaluate threats to national security.


Source: NSA Spying By Political Cartoon Gary Varvel

On the one hand, Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary for U.S. President George Bush, states that the American surveillance programs are generally designed for a sweeping overreach of the online system.  Fleischer says that the general public and the media have misinterpreted the true intent of the monitoring program.

The government will only act when something has gone terribly wrong, in much the same capacity when officials reacted after the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, 2013.  Fleischer admits that TV surveillance following everybody may be an infringement of our liberties, however “when trouble hit, it was because of that technology that we [law enforcement] were able to only target those who committed the crime and catch the killers.”

Runners continue to run towards the finish line as an explosion erupts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Source: Boston Marathon Bombings

With regards to online monitoring, Fleischer describes the monitoring as a satellite system that takes “pictures of a predictable river patterns.  The government will only react when a large [objects] disturbs the [natural] flow of water in that stream.”  Fleischer believes the American government has done the right thing by monitoring all activity and that any action will be done when America’s national interest is threatened.

However, according Jim Walsh, Research Associate at MIT Securities Program, the federal government should not be collecting information from law abiding citizens.  Walsh suggests that social network analysis is the government’s attempt to understand and decode social network patterns .   He states that that even if the government is not reading individual emails or listening to telephone calls, the fact that agencies know who we email and call should make people feel nervous.

Privacy is a modern phenomenon

Privacy as we know it now 2013 is a modern phenomenon.  Vint Cerf, Google’s chief internet evangelist, stated that “it’s the industrial revolution and the growth of urban concentrations that led to a sense of anonymity.”  According to Peter Nowak, reporter for Canadian Business, privacy issues are a modern and “relatively new invention.”  Nowak further states that the modern definition of privacy has been misunderstood.  “The earliest people huddled together in caves and therefore had no expectations of it (privacy). Each successive technological invention that affected how people lived increased that (privacy) expectation slightly, to the point where we now consider it an alienable right.”  The notion of privacy is social constructed and deserves further study and investigation.


Source:  Vint Cerf

The right to privacy emerged as a hot-button topic in the late 19th century, when technology such as the telephone, photography, heating, and electricity, slowly integrated into mainstream culture.  Nowak also states that, “when the telephone came along, it was first deployed as a sort of shared utility. Up until the Second World War, party lines – where several houses would share the same line – were common. Each house might have had a special ring to indicate calls destined for its inhabitants, but otherwise people were free to eavesdrop on each other’s call.”  Moreover, it was the milestone 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court case recognized privacy in the case of Katz v. the United States.  As a reminder, Katz “used a public pay phone booth to transmit illegal gambling wagers from Los Angeles to Miami and Boston.”


How has online privacy affected your behavior on social media?  Do you worry about the government tracking your every move?  What would you suggest be an alternative to the monitoring of online space?  Let me know in the comments below.


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