Why Bill C-51 (and your privacy) matter

The right to privacy is the right to freedom
Julien Balbontin/THE VARSITY
Julien Balbontin/THE VARSITY

The year is 2011: Edward Snowden has just come forth with a shocking disclosure regarding the United States National Security Agency’s invasive and secretive practices. The initial media storm gradually grew into a serious and thoughtful conversation about what privacy means in our technological age — naturally, some were outraged, while others felt it was justified.

Yet, others were simply indifferent to the revelations of the U.S government’s online snooping. Perhaps more concerning is how those who initially felt uncomfortable with the Snowden revelations have gradually become desensitized to the reality of being spied on by their own government.

The willingness of individuals to compromise their privacy without fully understanding the consequences is frightening to me, especially in the wake of similar reactions to the enactment of Bill-C51.

Bill C-51 a piece of is Canadian legislation grounded in surveillance practices parallel to those of the United States. It is an extension of already apparent government spying, and stands to degrade our society’s already limited technological freedom.

For anyone who is skeptical, it is important to understand the core issue of privacy. Privacy is a fundamental component of human nature and therefore should be an unequivocal freedom. In fact, we naturally create private spaces to express ourselves. This is because our actions shift radically when we know other people are watching, and we conform to social norms out of fear of judgement.

Consider the following: would you ever sing in a public shower? Probably not. Yet, you have no problem belting out Beyoncé when you take a shower at home.

This is because when away from the public eye, individuals have the freedom to explore, learn, experiment, and be creative. Without such privacy, independence, creativity, dissidence, and freedom — that is, the things necessary for a functioning and healthy democracy — all suffer.

Everyone, no matter how much they say otherwise, values their privacy. We all close our blinds at night. We all put passwords on our social media accounts. Take this privacy away from us, and we cease to have the spaces to truly exercise our freedom.

Yet, a frequent argument for government surveillance is that an individual should not be worried if they’re not doing anything “wrong.” In fact, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted in a December 3, 2009 CNBC interview saying: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

This argument completely ignores the principle of freedom behind privacy by conflating a moral “wrong” with an action that one simply doesn’t want others to know about. As already mentioned before, the desire to do things free from the judgement of others is not a moral “wrong”; it is simply an inherent part of human nature.

By making citizens ashamed about their natural need for privacy, the state can ultimately promote conformity to government standards of right and wrong (i.e. pro- and anti-state actions). Such attitudes will inevitably erode individual freedoms.

In fact, in this day and age, we all are aware that the government is watching everything we do online. Every Google search, the location from which we we make every phone call, every picture you post on social media and so much more. Everything we do online is observed, analyzed, and stored for possible future reference.

If we allow the normalization of this mass surveillance, we will eventually change our actions to match the norms of whoever is watching us. Such is the diminishment of individual freedom, due to a degradation of technological privacy.

There is no point in discussing the precise details of Bill C-51 in this context. What is important is the certainty that, with this ominous bill, the powers of government to spy on Canada’s population are increased dramatically. And if you really want to protect yourself, stand up for your right to privacy, and rally against C-51.

Kaitlyn Simpson is a second-year student at Trinity College studying political science, women & gender studies, and history.

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