Globe and Mail

You'll soon be watched much more, experts say

Wednesday, September 19, 2001
The Globe and Mail

Accepted notions of privacy have likely vanished forever in the dust of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Experts predict that Canadian security services may soon be capable of tapping into virtually any conversation or written communication -- with the blessings of a terrified public.

"It will be much more difficult to argue for private security," said security expert Reg Whitaker. "You don't have to read the polls to know that public opinion has shifted considerably."

The first tangible signs of the post-attack era will be heightened surveillance of e-mail and computer use, the experts say. They also predict more use of search and seizure, and intelligence profiling of nationalities seen as overrepresented in the world of terrorism.

The creation of a universal, machine-readable identity card may also be inevitable, said Stuart Farson, a political scientist who teaches at Simon Fraser University.

Until now, civil libertarians have been able to hold the proposal at bay. But in the wake of the attacks, Prof. Farson said, the United States will mount pressure for the cards to counteract what it sees as a lax Canadian attitude toward handing out documents that can be used to support passport applications.

Other likely developments include:

"Twelve-year-olds can download this encryption and use it to play games on the Internet, but security agencies can't read it," he said. "They are really, bloody frustrated about it."

Prof. Whitaker also predicted that Internet service providers will surrender in their long-running battle to avoid installing search programs capable of trolling for any e-mail messages featuring a target word. He said security agencies badly want to target words that they believe are indicative of terrorist communications.

But Prof. Whitaker warned that the hysteria in the air is comparable to the conditions that gave birth to McCarthyism in the Fifties and the internment of Japanese civilians during the Second World War.

Alan Borovoy, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, argued that security services have a massive arsenal of powers to use against terrorists. "In fact, there is a strong argument that they already have more power than they need. We have to keep a cool head."

Lawyer Clayton Ruby agreed. "The tools the government already has are incredibly immense," he said. "They can bug your phone, read your e-mail, put tracers on your car, turn your telephone into a microphone, pick up conversations in your living room from a half-mile away or record what you say to your wife in bed."

Prof. Farson cited a "scandalous" drop-off recently in the political oversight of agencies such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and said it is vital that any new powers be watched far more carefully.

University of Ottawa political scientist Errol Mendes said any new powers will be partially policed by the courts, where the government must show said constitutional breaches are closely linked and proportionate to a tangible policy goal.

"However, the Supreme Court of Canada has never fully come out and stated that there is a constitutional guarantee of privacy," Prof. Mendes added. "It is a grey area."

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.