Recently, I mentioned that telephone companies actually get paid to provide information to governments about their customers. And they don’t have to tell the customers. 

Of course, it could be routine and completely harmless, but we don’t know. Also, it might be an attractive business opportunity for otherwise less profitable telecoms.

However, the big telecoms don’t like this situation (see the vid below). They are well-established and can compete without selling data on their customers; maybe they would do all the better by offering privacy guarantees.

Some eye-openers surfaced recently in Canada. Merely because someone asked for details, not because it is necessarily any worse there. The practice is probably happening everywhere, for example in the United States (dragnet surveillance), Britain (via undersea cables) Australia, and New Zealand.

Now, it would be one thing if government was snooping to stop terrorists from capturing and beheading people.

But, so often, that isn’t what it’s about at all. At Motherboard, Patrick McGuire wrote back in April,

When news broke earlier this year that CSEC had been tracking Canadians through free airport wi-fi, the mainstream media largely missed the point. Not only had Canada’s NSA been using airport hotspots to gather personal information about Canadians, they had also been gathering data from other corporate sources to create behavioural patterns designed to track the comings and goings of whoever it is their targets are. That’s a bit more invasive than simply snooping on folks looking at cat videos while waiting for their connecting flight to Orlando.

So they need all this info because … ?

First, what type of information does the surveillance compromise? How about sensitive medical information? Credit rating issues? Information that would impact one’s defense in a court of law?

Does anyone really believe that if a method of getting such information exists, no government agent or private party will try to obtain it?

In the past, conversations or correspondence about such matters was confidential. Because your doctor, bank manager, or lawyer were bound by professional guidelines not to disclose the information to just anyone who wanted to know (otherwise lose their job or licence).

But what if someone can just listen in on Internet traffic instead?

The Internet has liberated many people, and I love it. That said, some of the people it has liberated are snoops, sneaks, spies, and snitches. Some of whom would feel right at home working for authoritarian governments.

Here’s a thought: Next time a politician’s aides bang on the door handing out leaflets, ask about the political party’s position on Internet privacy.

Wouldn’t do the aide any harm to find out, especially if the party doesn’t even have a position. Could be important to the aide to find that out and act on it.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...