A Canadian TV station recently provided a dramatic insight into how far Western governments are prepared to go, using advanced data gathering techniques, to surveil the lives of citizens:
Statistics Canada is asking banks across the country for financial transaction data and personal information of 500,000 Canadians without their knowledge. Global News has learned.
Documents obtained by Global News show the national statistical agency plans to collect “individual-level financial transactions data” and sensitive information, like social insurance numbers (SIN), from Canadian financial institutions to develop a “new institutional personal information bank.” Andrew Russell and David Akin, “EXCLUSIVE: Stats Canada requesting banking information of 500,000 Canadians without their knowledge” at Global News
Further investigation showed that the government agency has already been harvesting information from a credit bureau about, potentially, millions of Canadians for fifteen years, without anyone knowing. It plans to build “with the real-time financial transaction data of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.” The goal is to develop “new institutional personal information bank” for government use. This comes on the heels of reports of China adopting mass surveillance and instruction of other governments in internet control, though the Canadian data grab appears to be independent.
In response to Conservative opposition questions in the House of Commons, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau* justified the secret data grab on the grounds that “High quality and timely data are critical to ensuring that government programs remain relevant and effective for Canadians.” He blames the previous Conservative government for abandoning the mandatory long-form census which was unpopular in many quarters. It asked one in four respondents about ethnicity, religion, disability, and how much they pay for housing. Many Canadians are either unsure or would rather not say. Trudeau has now restored the mandatory long-form census.
The Prime Minister reassured the public that “the anonymized data will be used for statistical purposes only.”
Former chief statistician Wayne Smith quit over an earlier issue involving government treating citizen’s data as government property:
Mr. Smith, who resigned as head of Statscan two years ago over data-security concerns, said banking records are second only to health files in terms of Canadians’ most sensitive personal information.
Mr. Smith served as Canada’s chief statistician from 2010 to September, 2016, when he resigned in protest over the agency’s decision to house its computer servers with Shared Services Canada, a federal body that provides information technology to government departments. He said at the time that the move could weaken the agency’s ability to protect its data. Bill Curry, “Statscan must justify request for personal banking data, former chief says” at Globe and Mail (November 1, 2018)
National commentators are alarmed:
If the government can gather up all of your private information and put your name, address, social insurance number in a database along with every single transaction you make in a year and monitor you, and they don’t have to ask your permission, then you are no longer a free person.
Free people give consent, serfs live at the whim of the king and with his answers, Justin Trudeau is showing that he thinks he is the king. Brian Lilley, “StatsCan’s data grab will make us serfs” at brianlilley.com
So far, the Canadian banks have not given Trudeau’s government the data it demands. Some suggest that the move may harm Canada’s business community’s interests among nations that protect citizens’ privacy. Foreign businesses, they say, would never know who can grab the Canadian business’s data without consent.
* Note: Justin Trudeau’s grasp of science and technology matters may not be firm. He has claimed that his Science Minister Kirsty Duncan is a “Nobel Prize-winning scientist” but she isn’t. It is helpful to keep in mind that in a world dominated by Cool, audience reaction matters more than authenticity. For the record, here is a list of 14 Canadians who have won the Nobel Prize, most recently Donna Strickland, Nobel Physics 2018 for Chirped Pulse Amplification of lasers.
See also: Chilling snippet from mass surveillance in China: China is helping other countries restrict their citizens’ internet, while shunning the U.S.
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Google branches out into politics
Google powering China’s snoop culture
Senior Google scientist quits over Google’s censorship in China