Cyber surveillance worries most Canadians: privacy czar's poll

A growing number of Canadians say they are concerned about privacy, according to a new survey commissioned by the federal privacy commissioner.

Privacy erosion leaving growing number 'extremely concerned'

Privacy concerns are on the minds of Canadians, according to a new polled released Wednesday by the country's privacy commissioner.

A growing number of Canadians say they are concerned about privacy, according to a new survey commissioned by the federal privacy commissioner.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a survey of over 1,500 people on Wednesday, as Canadians were learning more about how their country's electronic spy agency is conducting mass surveillance of internet downloads.

A document obtained by U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is surveying 102 file-sharing sites across the globe in its search for extremists.

According to the document, that task requires CSE to sift through millions of uploads and downloads of movies, photos, music and other files every day.

Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., conducted the federal poll of 1,519 Canadians this past fall.

The poll, commissioned by the privacy commissioner's office and conducted this past fall, indicates nine in 10 Canadians have "some level of concern" about privacy.

About one in three, or 34 per cent, of those surveyed said they were "extremely concerned," up from 25 per cent from 2012.

“Canadians deeply value privacy, but fear they are losing the control they have over their personal information. It’s imperative we find ways to enhance that sense of control so that people feel their privacy rights are being respected,” the privacy commissioner's office said in a statement.

Among the findings:

  • Seventy-three per cent feel they have less protection of their personal information in their daily lives — the highest level in a decade.
  • Seventy-eight per cent expressed concern about how personal information about them that ends up online might be used in the context of government surveillance.
  • Fifty-seven per cent said they were “not comfortable” with government departments and agencies requesting personal information from telecommunications companies without a warrant.
  • Sixty per cent said they have little expectation of privacy today, either online or in the real world because there are so many ways in which their privacy can be compromised.

Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., interviewed 1,519 Canadians by phone for the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was conducted in October and November 2014.

CSE told CBC News it's "legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata, including from parts of the internet routinely used by terrorists."

The agency said it's looking to identify foreign threats to Canada.

"In collecting the analyzing metadata, CSE does not direct its activities at Canadians or anyone in Canada, and in accordance with our legislation, has a range of measures in place to protect the privacy of Canadians incidentally encountered in the course of these foreign intelligence operations," CSE said.

In its analysis of the CSE project, dubbed "Levitation," the U.S. news website The Intercept said the world's intelligence agencies are operating like "a giant X-ray machine over all our digital lives.”

"The scale of it is really mind-boggling," David Christopher of the internet advocacy group OpenMedia told CBC News.

"We’ve also seen Canadian internet addresses are among the targets, he said, "that [CSE] is actually sharing these IP addresses with spies in the U.K. and U.S."

On mobile? Click here for Levitation file