N. American war on terror seen as threat to privacy

Shawn McCarthy

OTTAWA -- The North American war on terrorism is seriously undermining
Canadians' privacy rights, threatening to produce an Orwellian world where
government monitors our daily lives, federal Privacy Commissioner George
Radwanski has warned.

In his annual report tabled yesterday, Mr. Radwanski says Canadian society is at
a crossroads, with new technology and a heightened emphasis on anti-terrorist
security combining to erode basic rights.

"Privacy is threatened as it's never been before," the report says.

"We're all confronted now with the real possibility of having to go through life
with someone looking over our shoulder, either metaphorically or quite

"We face the real and imminent prospect of having to live our lives weighing
every action, every purchase, every statement, every human contact, wondering
who might find out about it, judge it, misconstrue it or somehow use it to our

He said terrorists who attacked the United States will have achieved a major
victory if governments sacrifice basic rights to collective security.

"That's not freedom," he wrote. "That, on the contrary, is a distinguishing
characteristic of totalitarian societies."

The privacy commissioner -- in his first report after being appointed by Prime
Minister Jean Chretien -- says Canadians' are far too cavalier about their
privacy rights and rarely raise a fuss until their own lives have been invaded.

He says new technology already posed a threat to individual privacy before the
Sept, 11 terrorist attacks, but that such pressures are even more acute in the

In response to the terror attacks, federal legislation has increased the ability
of police and intelligence agents to conduct surveillance on Canadians; airlines
are being required to hand over passenger information to the government, and new
border controls are being considered that include biometric recognition
technology and identity cards.

In an interview, Mr. Radwanski said he accepts that the heightened concern over
security will result in a diminishing of Canadians' privacy rights in specific
cases. But he said government should apply strict tests before it infringes on
basic rights.

The intrusive measures should be demonstrably required to protect society, and
not merely to reassure nervous citizens. They should be proportional to the
threat and it should be clear that no less-intrusive means would achieve the
same aims.

Despite the dire tone of the report, the Privacy Commissioner did claim some
victories in his battle to protect privacy rights. He noted that the government
amended its anti-terror legislation this fall to reflect his recommendations.

Mr. Radwanski also complained about police videotaping on public streets to
deter crime, calling it an egregious assault on privacy rights. The RCMP
installed a video camera on a Kelowna, B.C., street after complaints from
downtown merchants.

The privacy commissioner asked RCMP Commissioner Giulliano Zaccardelli to order
it removed, but the RCMP commissioner refused, saying the camera is making
Kelowna a safer place to live.

Mr. Radwanski has asked members of Parliament and senators to press the police
commissioner to change that decision.