For 1,400 Bucks I Can Spy on All of You

Bill C-51 begs the question “who will police the police?” To the credit of the bill’s authors Canada’s spy agencies have to get approval from judges to conduct certain types of surveillance; yet, in the great scheme of things our right to and need for privacy far outweighs the perception of security gained by passing such a bill in to law. Why does the government need to know what websites I visit or the places I visit by utilizing the GPS on my phone? You’d be surprised what you can piece together about a person just by keeping track of these two pieces of data.

Also, in the American context, the mass collection of data hasn’t prevented a single terrorist attack. Not a one. The Americans have a “catch it all” policy (which, mind you, is illegal even according to their own laws like the Patriot Act). When you emphasize everything you emphasize nothing; and a series of Congressional level assessments of America’s ability to prevent terrorist acts through spying has determined massive surveillance doesn’t work. With that said, it might work better than security agencies are willing to admit. Specifically, it is possible the Americans purposely don’t prevent small attacks like those on Paris, Brussels or Lahore, etc. so they can prevent large ones like a “dirty bomb” or nuclear attack on a major city. If this is the case, and the Americans aren’t demonstrating the true efficacy of their spying techniques and technologies, then so be it; however, if this spying actually has no efficacy at all at preventing terrorism then it begs a second question, i.e. why are maintaining these elaborate surveillance systems? The answer might be found in the following dichotomy: while C-51 and the Patriot Act are relatively ineffective at preventing terrorist acts (arguably they don’t discourage it at all), these laws do serve a known and concrete function: they discourage democratic protests and movements from growing in America and other Western countries.

The Patriot Act gave the National Security Agency significant surveillance powers to fight terrorism. That very same police power and information gathering power, however, was used by the FBI in 2009 to identify leaders of the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement emerged in response to the Great Recession of 2008-2009 where a few dozen financial executives from Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, etc. brought the global economy crashing down. The Occupy movement was a response to the economic meltdown and the growing disparities in wealth between the “haves” and “have notes” in the United States (the so-called 99% vs. 1%). The leaders and rank and file of the Occupy movement weren’t terrorists but dissidents; nonetheless, the FBI and NSA used the surveillance powers granted to them by the Patriot Act to identify the leaders of the Occupy movement in order to subdue it. The FBI/NSA used their technology to identify Occupy’s more vocal leaders. Once the leaders were identified they were arrested and charged with conspiracy and threatened with long prison sentences; rather than go to prison in a rigged game these leaders wisely agreed to leave the movement and remain silent in exchange for having the charges dropped.

That happened. But was that what the framers of the Patriot Act intended to happen?

Bill C-51 has the same potential to be used against critics of the Canadian government. By the way, the abuse of surveillance powers is being repeated today as security agencies watch the “Black Lives Matter” movement with interest; that is, when a protest against police violence on African-Americans takes place look up and you’ll find FBI planes circling above outfitted with the latest cameras and IMSI devices.


These IMSI devices are used to identify protesters literally by phone number and name; and these devices record everything coming through it. An IMSI device is basically a “middle-man” router between your phone and whatever cell tower you happen to be closest to at any given moment; and because this device is in the middle it records all communications going through it. They’re pretty cheap, too. You can buy them on the Internet for as cheap as $1,400.00 USD. So assuming virtually every protester has a cell phone security agencies can effectively identify every single person present; and if an individual attends multiple protests, or meets in a smaller group before the protest (a potential meeting of leaders?), a pattern emerges and the affected individual can be “red flagged” as a potential trouble-maker and so on.

If you want to learn more about how IMSI catchers work, click here to see a short video on how the device is currently used to undermine democracy in Great Britain.

Apologists for the mass surveillance system argue that if you aren’t a criminal, you have nothing to worry about; this argument is a Strawman Fallacy. People, wittingly or unwittingly, use Strawmen fallacies like these to divert our attention away from the actual issue being discussed on to a second, irrelevant issue. In the case of C-51, apologists divert our attention away from the problems I’ve just discussed on to a secondary non-issue, i.e. if we don’t break laws then we have nothing to fear. When people are watched or if they know they are being listened to they behave differently. Instead, of criticizing the government or corporate power, the watched person is more likely to fall into line or not attend a protest altogether; instead of considering alternatives to the status-quo and expressing themselves, the spied on person remains quiet and pliant. The modern surveillance state encourages and grooms citizens to become progressively more and more passive; and in the great scheme of things, when it comes to preserving democracy, history demonstrates that where people are passive fascism, not freedom, prevails.

This is the reason you should worry about C-51 and the emergence of the modern surveillance state: democracy isn’t about elections or achieving perfect security or possessing absolute certainty; it is about the right of the individual to be free from government or any other kind of outside interference (within reason); it is about the right to be able to hold and potentially express an unconsidered opinion or one which draws attention to a problem affecting society; it is about peacefully managing the disagreements which inevitably emerge among citizens in any given polity and not trying to stamp them out by silencing dissidents who come to fear/distrust their government or an unfettered corporate order; and at the most fundamental level it is about your right to privacy, and the right to follow whatever course you as an individual want to follow without necessarily guaranteeing that that path will agree with the aims of the state or any individual or group within Canada (short of course of violating the rule of law based on existing laws).

Click on the link below to access a 15 minute long interview Chris Hedges. Hedges is an author, activist, and journalist. He has some important things to say with respect to how we might safe-guard democracy.