Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

The Surveillance Economy

Everyone's Collecting | Metadata | Governments | Reports
Fix Bill C-11 | Repeal C-51

Your privacy is threatened like never before

Justified by terrorism, surveillance has been exploited by both governments and businesses.

Mass surveillance is the intricate surveillance of an entire or a substantial fraction of a population in order to monitor that group of citizens. The surveillance is often carried out by local and federal governments or governmental organisations…, but it may also be carried out by corporations (either on behalf of governments or at their own initiative).

We're Becoming a Police State

We've seen a series of laws and rules that greatly increase the power of the government and police to gather information on their own citizens. It is secretly obtained without the prerequisite for probable cause or the oversight of a warrant that once protected citizens from unlawful search and seizure.

Whether it is cellphone tracking devices, Ring camera footage or license plate cameras, data is being constantly collected about where we are and who we are with. Warrantless access to this data “just in case” has become the norm rather than the exception.

Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state.
Bruce Schneier

Current trends show increased surveillance and a corresponding loss of privacy:

An expanding category of software, apps, and devices is normalizing cradle-to-grave surveillance in more and more aspects of everyday life. At EFF we call them “disciplinary technologies.” They typically show up in the areas of life where surveillance is most accepted and where power imbalances are the norm: in our workplaces, our schools, and in our homes. — EFF

Governments allowed corporations unprecedented access to our private data, then demanded access to those same resources based upon the rulings of secret courts.

Our private data is the new currency of business. Increasingly companies collect everything about what we do online, supposedly in exchange for all the free information and products on the Internet.

The press has performed admirably in reporting on privacy violations by the National Security Agency and major internet companies. But news sites often expose users to the same surveillance programs and data-collection companies they criticize. — The New York Times

Do Not Track Ineffective

Some attempts have been made to allow you to opt-out of this collection process.

The “Do Not Track” should have provided a clear indication that you don't want to be tracked, but it was made voluntary, so even with that enabled, you'll see the pop-up notices about the use of cookies now required by the European Union (but not North America) because it is ignored by most companies claiming that there is “no standard.”

The “Do Not Track” law serves as a sterling example of how bad things are. When it was proposed, it was supposed to give users the right to demand that Internet companies not track them. Internet companies fought hard against the law, and when it was passed, they fought to ensure that it didn't have any benefit to users. — Bruce Schneier
Even if you have Do Not Track turned on, that information will be collected and stored and used to create a profile of you that may or may not be accurate. That profile can be used by credit agencies, big corporations, and health insurance companies to make decisions about you that can literally affect your life and livelihood. — ZDNet

You Are the Product

Any time that you don't pay for a product or a service, your private information is the currency. You become the product.

Corporations like Facebook became wealthy by creating profiles on their users to be sold to advertisers using an open Web that they're now trying to lock down. Facebook makes about $50 per user per month while providing their “free” service.

Microsoft changed their business model from selling operating systems and office suites to one which collects personal information and monetizes features that used to be included free with the purchase of a Windows license.

Your Personal Privacy at Risk

Your personal privacy is at risk like it has never been before. Too many have bought into the “nothing to hide” mantra.

It's not necessarily that you're doing anything wrong at all, or that you have anything to hide, but we all should have a sphere of our life where we're not on stage or being scrutinized.


And if we get rid of our privacy it's going to have a massive impact on our ability to develop as humans. — Jenny Afia

Our information is being handled by an increasingly smaller number of powerful companies where your privacy impedes profitability.

It feels like every tech giant has been racing to update their privacy policies these days so we wanted to ask. What did we just sign up for? What is this bargain? — Mozilla
Tech companies like Facebook have mastered the art of distorting choice and consent. — EFF

More about this brave new world of one-sided transparency:

Yes, you're being tracked everywhere and even though many claim they don't sell your data, they do indirectly:

Safety of Children a Powerful but Flawed Argument

Children's safety and the prosecution of child-based crimes is a noble action. However, legislation is often flawed and has darker purposes, including outright attacks on encryption and free speech.

While we see this argument used to justify removing rights like the right to privacy or encryption, they are far less aggressive in fighting privacy violations involving children if it profits big business.

Mozilla's IRL podcast, The “Privacy Policy” Policy gives a great example of how a “free” game can collect information to monetize their product, even from kids.

Yet More Access is Demanded

Police and intelligence agencies are quick to point out the use of cell phones and encryption in terrorist attacks. They continue to demand new restrictions including special “back door” access.

Criminals and terrorists use many other services. Do we ban everything?

Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. And while terrorism turns society's very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response — just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too. — Bruce Schneier

Back Doors Unsecure

Back doors inevitably are broken and become the tools of criminals. No one wants to share private data and financial information such as credit cards on the Internet without strong encryption (it would be like mailing cash).

It really never comes into play as being a personal issue or a real big factor for you personally until that information is either weaponized, used against you, or it feels personal. — The Grand Bargain

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Everyone is Collecting Information

Everyone is collecting vast amounts of information about you — governments, businesses and the sites you visit on the Internet. “No big deal, right?”


The practice of compiling and selling individuals' personal information by data brokers for marketing or other purposes raises privacy concerns. These concerns result, in part, from a lack of transparency and openness and the challenges individuals face in trying to exert control over their information. — Privacy Commissioner of Canada

Your Personal Data Valuable

Your personal data has become the currency of the Internet and is worth $130 billion per year!

Digital advertisers are making approximately $250 annually — roughly twice the cost of a Netflix subscription — off you and your browsing data. — Jeremy Tillman
Right now, our data is worth a lot of coin to a lot of companies. But privacy, it's priceless. It's a necessary part of a healthy functioning society. — Manoush Zomorodi
“Privacy is often framed as a matter of personal responsibility, but a huge portion of the data in circulation isn't shared willingly — it's collected surreptitiously and with impunity. Most third-party data collection in the US is unregulated,” said Cyphers. “The first step in fixing the problem is to shine a light…on the invasive third-party tracking that, online and offline, has lurked for too long in the shadows.” — EFF

US ISPs Wanted in on the Action

No wonder the US ISPs were pressuring the government to allow them to cull user data like Facebook and Google do. However, their premise is flawed.

President Trump signed the bill allowing ISPs to collect and sell their client's surfing data on April 3, 2017.

Not only have [US lawmakers] voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online. — Bruce Schneier

ISPs are Different

ISPs charge for their services but also have access to all of your surfing.

I wonder how many of these ISPs would be so keen on the idea if they had to provide free unlimited Internet access to users?

ISPs Can Record Everything You Do Online

ISPs see everything you do online (not just when you're logged into Facebook or another service) and can create a much more accurate profile that will be worth much more than Facebook's profile of you (which is so detailed that advertisers can focus their message to a user base more precisely than virtually any other medium).

This isn't just your browsing history or cookies. It's geolocation data, financial info, passwords, health info, even your Social Security Number. Anything you do, any data you enter, any online video you watch, any email you write. Your ISP could store it all and sell it for their own profit if Congress throws out the FCC rulings. —

Remember, this is much more than what you're typing into your browser. More and more our applications have moved from our computer to become Software as a Service (SaaS) — software running on the Internet. Even our operating systems (e.g. Windows 10) are moving that direction. If this trend is allowed to continue, we'll soon have even less control (ownership) of our own data in the future.

Facebook Tracking

You're vulnerable to Facebook when

Using common factors, Facebook will attempt to link up the anonymous account with an actual account or combine multiple anonymous accounts into one profile.

Facebook wants Apple to change its business model so Facebook doesn't have to. Think about that.


It's like Ford Motor asking Tesla to build gas-powered cars so it can compete. Or Dell asking Apple to go back to Intel so their notebooks can compete. — ZDNet

Google Tracking

You're providing data to Google when you use their search facilities directly (instead of an intermediary like or use a Google product like Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. or when you visit the 86% of sites that use Google Analytics.

You're particularly exposed when you're logged in to your Google account while using Chrome, YouTube or Google Search.

Tracking Mobile Device Users

The choices for mobile users is even more distinct based upon the mobile operating system:

  • Android users a always being tracked except by following a complex process.
  • iOS users can disable tracking by going into the Privacy settings, then Location Services then selecting “While Using” or “Never” for Google apps like Google Maps.

In my opinion, it is unfortunate that a very capable company like Google (Alphabet) did not continue to “do no evil” (their original motto, since replaced with “do the right thing”).

Big Corporations Hijacked the Internet

The Internet was made for everyone but is being hijacked by big corporations that are turning people into products without their knowledge or consent. — The Hidden Business of the Internet
The data market is massive, how big? Well the going estimate puts it at over 130 billion dollars now and maybe as much as 200 billion in the next three years. Those in the business of buying and selling data, we call them data brokers. — Veronica Belmont

And it is probably going to get worse. Like sharks smelling blood, corporations are after any data they can cull. They keep it insecurely (remember, it cost them little to obtain) just in case it comes in useful later.

Trade deals like TPP, TISA and TTIP have all been open to input from industry but closed to input from both non-profit groups that look out for the public interest as well as many of our elected government representatives.

It appeared that we'd defeated the TPP then the US negotiation team began making the same demands within NAFTA. One example: they are seeking to invalidate Canadian laws protecting privacy and copyright so that US cloud providers face no restriction on doing business here.

Currently, policies in British Columbia and Nova Scotia require public-sector information — data from universities, hospitals, and government institutions — to be stored in Canada with the intent to prevent public information from being accessed elsewhere. However, that protection no longer applies if that data is stored in the US, and its own protections don't extend to non-citizens. — MotherBoard

Canada has bowed to US pressure to approve the new NAFTA agreement which contains many of the worst aspects of the TPP. Expect to pay more for US services and to have fewer protections.

Big Data: Tracking Your Every Move

Big Data is the current mantra of organizations. How to obtain it, store it, process it.

Big data has been promoted as saving you time, personalizing your experience and a number of other positive concepts.

The Dark Side

However, big data has its dark side: the development, buying and selling of profiles (data about individuals).

The modern ad industry is about the buying and selling of individuals, says Jeff Chester, executive director at the Center for Digital Democracy. All the investments is aggressively pushing toward much more granular personalized targeting.The Verge

“Personalized” Experiences

“Personalized” experiences is a euphemism for profiling. Its purpose is to make advertisers more effective in targeting you in their advertising; more likely that an ad will appeal to you.

Our unprecedented ability to collect and store data is revolutionizing the business world and giving companies predictive insight that they have never dreamed of before. Motor companies can now anticipate breakdowns, credit card companies can apply personally tailored rates for their clients, and mega-retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart can track sales with accuracy that almost seems psychic. — Moran Shimony

The concept of “personally tailored rates” may sound appealing until you realize that means that you'll pay more if you live in the wrong neighbourhood, view the wrong sites (or your friends do).

There is only one word that can be used to describe this practice: sleazy.

Web Tracking

If you're using privacy software like Ghostery on your web browser, you've probably noticed that most sites now use invisible web beacons, analytics services, page widgets and other third-party page elements that are secretly tracking your every move.

[W]eb tracking has become so pervasive that approximately ten percent of websites send the data they've collected to ten or more different companies, and 15 percent of all page loads on the internet are monitored by ten or more trackers. — Jeremy Tillman

These sleazy practices are very profitable — but at the expense of your privacy. Corporations would sue you if you were to return the favour (they'd call it hacking).

Videos and Comments as Marketing Tools

Videos on many sites serve as more than information. Comments on the bottom of an article or post also have a hidden purpose.

Both are marketing tools.

If you use ad blockers and other privacy software, you quickly learn that if you block tracking elements, you can no longer view embedded videos nor see the comments left by other site visitors.

Creepy Recording of Your Surfing

Many of today's largest websites are not only storing generic analytics data, but individualized recordings of visits to their site, including keystrokes, mouse movements, clicks and the pages visited. These scripts even record keystrokes that aren't submitted (including your typed passwords).

They claim that they are only collecting anonymous meta data, but are doing everything they can to identify users.

"Session replay scripts" can be used to log (and then playback) everything you typed or clicked on a website. — Motherboard

The information shared on some sites is much more personal and should be protected. It isn't.

Dating sites collect sensitive personal information like drug usage habits and sexual preferences. They also have dozens of trackers that can collect profile information, as well as information on where a user clicks or looks. — Axios

Why Tracking is a Privacy Issue

While these sites claim the purpose is to improve their website, much more information is obtained which allows sites to create a precise profile about you.

Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information such as medical conditions, credit card details and other personal information displayed on a page to leak to the third-party as part of the recording. This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior. The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes. — Freedom to Tinker

This data has tremendous economic value and may be shared without your permission (or be revealed in a data breach) and this could have significant repercussions for your privacy in the future.

PayPal Shares Your Data

The 600+ companies PayPal shares your data withview the graphic.

While much of this may have to do with ensuring your identity, that is a lot of sharing.

More About Big Data

There's more about Big Data on these pages:

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“We're Only Collecting Metadata”

Many organizations indicate that they are “only collecting metadata” yet are very vague about what they do with our data and who they share it with.

[M]etadata is characterized as data used to describe other data. As a result, an assessment of whether bulk collection of telephony metadata violates a reasonable expectation of privacy seems to have been rooted in three constitutionally relevant dichotomies, namely content vs. non-content data, private records vs. business records held by third parties, and hard-to-obtain information vs. information “in plain view.” — Kift & Nissenbaum

Significant is our inability to determine how those collecting our information will aggregate, store, combine and analyze that data, and the extent to which we, the data subjects, assume the risk of metadata being shared beyond the purpose for which it was provided.

The number and size of data breaches demonstrates how little regard these organizations have for the consequences of their failure to protect our data. The implication is that we allowed them this information so they are no longer responsible.

That's like blaming you for how your credit card was used following its theft including its use in the commission of a crime after you've reported it stolen.

Why Metadata Matters

Research has shown that using only call metadata, the government can determine what your religion is, if you purchased a gun or got an abortion, and other incredibly private details of your life. Former director of the NSA and CIA, Michael Hayden, recently admitted: We kill people based on metadata. And former NSA General Counsel Stu Baker said: metadata absolutely tells you everything about somebody's life. If you have enough metadata, you don't really need content.
Electronic Frontier Foundation

How revealing metadata can be is demonstrated in these three (rather obvious) examples presented by Kurt Opsahl at CCC on December 30, 2013:

  1. They know you rang a phone sex service at 2:24 a.m. and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don't know what you talked about.
  2. They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
  3. They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don't know what was discussed.

Why metadata matters further expands this concept and helps you to better understand what metadata is and how it affects us.

Anonymous No More

A more intensive look at telephone metadata reveals much more. Your privacy could be compromised by linking the timing of anonymous data to data that directly identifies you via credit card, hotel stays and more.

While there might be a lot of people who are in their thirties, male, and living in New York City, far fewer of them were also born on 5 January, are driving a red sports car, and live with two kids (both girls) and one dog. — Dr. Luc Rocher
One investigation of "anonymized" user credit card data by MIT found that users could be correctly "de-anonymized" 90 percent of the time using just four relatively vague points of information. Another study looking at vehicle data found that 15 minutes' worth of data from just brake pedal use could lead them to choose the right driver, out of 15 options, 90% of the time. — TechDirt

All this can be used to build a profile of you that may make judgement calls which are then processed as “facts” by other parties. Metadata IS surveillance.

Even something like Alfred Kinsey's sex research data from the 1930s and 1940s isn't safe. Kinsey took great pains to preserve the anonymity of his subjects, but in 2013, researcher Raquel Hill was able to identify 97% of them. — Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Capture Your Data and Control Your World by Bruce Schneier

Much more data is collected today. We can no longer blindly provide access to all our personal data assuming it is truly anonymous.

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Governments Collecting More

[K]now that every border that you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cellphone tower you pass, friend you keep, site you visit, and subject line you type, is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. — CITIZENFOUR documentary

Everything We Know About NSA Spying is an excellent YouTube video about NSA spying. It shows just how extensive the reach of this program is and how easy it is to become a target.

In the “new propaganda era” we are entering, where the frontier between information, communication and propaganda becomes blurry, the world needs independent journalists, who engage in the pursuit of the truth, who respect standards of ethics, and whose mission is to give citizens of this world tools to understand what surrounds them. That is to say, in a word, free journalists. — Defence Handbook For Journalists and Bloggers

More About Personal Activities

Governments are collecting more about you and your Internet activities.

Never in history has a surveillance state and a representative form of government existed side by side. A free society and a surveillance society cannot be reconciled. Biometrics is the linchpin to a surveillance society. — Constitutional Alliance
Never give a government a power you would not want a despot to have. — John Gilmore

Canadian Government Double Standard

The Canadian government will not allow its data to be stored on servers outside Canada. However, the government is much less concerned about your privacy.

They continue to share data about their own citizens with the U.S. and other Five Eyes partners — even unconfirmed data that has cost innocent individuals their freedom.

Overseas Privacy Threatened

Microsoft successfully fought a December 2013 federal search warrant demanding that the company release emails stored in Ireland. Governments seeking access to data stored on overseas servers should concern everyone. The U.S. is not the only country doing this.

The revelations of NSA searches on U.S. servers has cost American tech companies, forcing them to build servers overseas rather than hosting them all in the United States. This case clearly had implications for these companies being abandoned if foreign customers felt their privacy was threatened even with servers hosted in their own country.

You can find out more about governments collection of personal information at:


Fix Bill C-11

Fix Bill C-11 and privacy in Canada.

Fix Bill C-11: Make it work for us. Tell your MP to fix privacy in Canada by closing the loopholes in Bill C-11.

Put Privacy Before Profit

Bill C-11 was crafted after the government consulted big business.

Privacy is a basic human right.

Our government boasted about imposing some of the highest fines for privacy violations in the world.


Now we know these fines won't apply to many of Canada's most high profile and egregious privacy incidents over the last few years. — OpenMedia

Bill C-11 Falls Short

Canada's proposed Bill C-11 fails to establish privacy by design and takes away too much from private citizens.

Although [Bill C-11] is primarily a bill to fight against piracy, [i]t also gives the Canadian government more power to monitor the Internet activities of its citizens.


In fact, it requires that ISPs collect and store their users' data. It legally takes away all of your online privacy.


There is also the Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51. This bill gives Canada the opportunity to share datum with the government and their allies. — Top VPN Choice

Repeal Bill C-51

Trudeau promised to amend the controversial and Draconian anti-terrorist Bill C-51.

Increases Surveillance

The law is vague and undefined, making it possible to collect and trade information between agencies without either proper oversight or just cause.

Imagine how you would feel if the government installed cameras in your home that recorded everything you did, then gave police the power to review the footage without a warrant, whenever they want.


If that sounds to you like a gross violation of your privacy, you should probably be aware that the federal Liberals are contemplating pretty much exactly that for the digital world.
Huffington Post

Bill C-51 makes it easier for police to access information and to defeat encryption.

A lot of what classifies as terrorism in the political context — individuals that the news calls terrorist — are really common criminals.
Edward Snowden

Online Safety Threatened

Bill C-51 allows the sharing of entire databases with CSIS and the RCMP without cause.

The bar is so low that effectively “having a look around just in case” is sufficient justification for sharing massive amounts of information under the Act.
BC Civil Liberties Association

Balancing Privacy and Security

Law enforcement agencies are clamoring for even easier access to meta-data. We are fast approaching the very definition of a police state where everything about you is openly known by the police.

Far from “going dark,” the amount of data available to policing agencies in Canada and abroad is at historic heights, making this truly the golden age of investigative surveillance.
The Star
[W]e have seen too many cases of inappropriate and sometimes illegal conduct by state officials that have impacted on the rights of ordinary citizens not suspected of criminal or terrorist activities.
Privacy Commissioner

Lie, Lie, Deny

The RCMP first denied using Clearview AI's facial recognition technology then lied about what they were using it for.

[O]nly 6% of the hundreds of Clearview AI searches done by the RCMP were to identify victims, and a staggering 85% of searches could not be accounted for at all.
Privacy Commissioner

The RCMP were effectively putting millions of Canadians in a 24/7 police lineup.

CSIS a de facto Secret Police

We're at a tipping point where we need to decide whether to continue evolving into a surveillance society, or whether to rein in the government's spying apparatus before more lives are ruined by information disclosures. — OpenMedia
While a democracy can incorporate the need for an intelligence agency to operate with considerable secrecy, there is no place in a democracy for a secret police. Full stop. — BC Civil Liberties Association

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Surveillance Reports

Reports about privacy and surveillance:

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: September 2, 2021