Kinsman: With revelation of widespread surveillance of Canadian communications, both by the NSA and the Communications Security Establishment Canada, has privacy lost out to security concerns?

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June 18, 2013
Jeremy Kinsman
Former ambassador to the European Union and high commissioner to Britain

No question it has. Civil liberties give way whenever there’s a war or threat of war. Cynics say “Privacy’s gone. Get over it.”

But hugely troubling questions need answers.

Are we at “war?”

Have excessively powerful U.S. agencies exaggerated the threats, oversold the remedies, and intimidated elected leaders into accepting the dilution of rights of citizens as well as the intrusion into the rights of foreigners?

Canada is actually worse off. Our copy-cat surveillance programs have zero Parliamentary oversight, although they maul the rights of citizens. Hugh Segal chairs the Senate’s special Committee on Anti-terrorism but knew nothing because he (though a former Chief of Staff to the PM) “didn’t have the security clearance.” But until recently, ultra secret clearance was awarded Arthur Porter, now being sought for serious fraud, when with no relevant background he was named head of CSIS oversight. (Who’s answering for that?)

Secrecy at the top is the way Canadians are ruled. The default executive position is anti-transparency and anti-public. Parliament which is meant to safeguard our democracy has been rendered useless.

Downgrading citizens’ prerogatives and rights this way is serious stuff. Explanations and then safeguards are mandatory. Even sleep-walking Canadians shouldn’t just “get over it.”