Surveillance: a Liberal Perspective
by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa
PM hopeful Justin Trudeau has propelled himself into the spotlight once again. Arriving at the SLC on the 10th of September, he was greeted to a liberal cheer-fest. Already a better public speaker than during his leadership debates; his rhetoric is almost as well-groomed as his hairstyle (almost). I entered a crowd of fan-boys-and-girls alike, just in time for question period. This was my first vocal encounter with a national politician and unfortunately for him, I had come somewhat prepared.
I was eager to ask a question regarding national surveillance and government data collection, but somebody beat me to it. It was time for me to improvise and revise. The question asked was along the lines of will the government’s involvement continue in data collection programs. Justin’s answer in a nutshell: yes, more than ever.
He did mention civilian oversight in government decision making (something Harper has almost entirely cut out of the democratic process) and the importance of a continued discussion about the issue. Not laws or reform, just discussion, more particularly discussion between corporations (such as social media giants) and the government. His mention of corporations was an interesting one, but still nonetheless a failure to address the underlying problem.
It is well known that Google and social media websites knows an uncomfortable amount of information about us. His point was: that businesses use this information to generate a profit for their shareholders, not like our benevolent government who uses it for our own ‘security’. He continued to say that the government has a responsibility to ensure our security in a wider world due to an exposure to risk. A lot of talk about discussion, yet he failed to actually discuss the issue at hand.
When we sign up to any website or agree to use a service online, we are presented with a document called the “terms and conditions”. Although, many of us fail to read this document, it is widely available on all major platforms. In the terms and conditions, a lot of legal terminology is used to explain what kind of data they collect from you and how it’s being put to use. If I understand correctly, when you enter a voting booth, or become a citizen of this country, we are not presented with a terms and conditions as to what is being done in the name of our security and what sort of methods we are subject to. No, we have to hear it from somebody else, like our friendly neighborhood, Edward Snowden.
I politely raised my hand and after he commented on my tie (it was a nice tie, thank you), I asked him exactly this, “You said civilians approve to the collection of information by corporations and the government has a responsibility of security to the population. But as I understand, when you sign up on FB and social media, you approve to a terms and conditions. How would civilian oversight, show us the terms and conditions to our government surveillance and data collection?” Now, I was expecting an evasion but not to the magnitude he gave me.
A slight frown appeared on his face and in a defensive tone he cut me down in a single sentence. I couldn’t have been happier about the answer; it was exactly what I wanted. More than I wished for actually, it was a gift to solidify my disdain for big party politics. According to Trudeau, if you vote a particular party into government, you approve to whatever measures they take to ensure your security. So there you have it voters, if you vote Liberal, you approve of continued data collection.
I was surprised by the bluntness of his answer and can only think that it was the only question he was hoping to avoid, but maybe I’m giving myself too much credit. Maybe I just have a personal vendetta towards Justin Trudeau for rejecting my smartly worded questionings. My ego was defeated in the face of such a political giant and superstar, a distinguished veteran in the area of meet and greets. Regardless of my own opinion, when will we as Canadian people have an option to vote for somebody that offers actual change regarding issues that affect all of us? When will we as Canadians have the right to not be subjects of intrusive data collection methods by our own government? Justin, we are not the threat here, you and the government you support is.