Citizen Lab Post-Doctoral Fellow Christopher Parsons was interviewed by a number of media outlets on several privacy concerns in Canada this month, ranging from topics such as the expansion of Toronto Police Service’s surveillance technologies, the collection of social media data by the government, and concerns with particular mobile applications.
In an interview with the CBC, Parsons commented on the Toronto Police Service’s recent consideration of facial recognition technology as a tool in solving crimes. Parsons told the CBC that despite the clear advantages of the technology, there are obvious risks associated with its use. “Serious crimes — rapes, murders, manslaughter — these are the kinds of crimes that must be brought to justice. But for other crimes, lesser crimes, maybe those aren’t the situations where we [should] use these really efficient, high-tech systems,” said Parsons, as the risk lies in “criminalizing a large portion of the population.” This story was also published in the Huffington Post.
Christopher Parsons was also consulted for an article in VICE’s Motherboard, which investigated the Canadian government’s practice of collecting the social media information of Canadians. Federal Minister and President of the Treasury Board Tony Clement said in April that this data is collected to determine how policy initiatives and government programs are received by the public. Parsons said that despite this, the government cannot collect information, even if it is publicly available, simply because it wants to. He added that there must be “terms set on the collection, handling, disclosure and disposal of personal information that the government wants to gather.” Parsons said that he had reached out to Public Works and Government Services Canada, the agency responsible for the procurement of this data, but had yet to receive an adequate response regarding the details of the social media monitoring system.
Similiarly, Parsons spoke to Motherboard regarding the prevalence of unreported wiretapping by Canadian law enforcement agencies. According to independent reporting by Motherboard, 6,000 wiretaps and telecommunications interceptions were authorized by all levels of Canadian government in 2011. It has also been shown that the number of call detail record (CDR) requests conducted per year approaches 12,000. Parsons explained that corporations who deal in telecommunications, such as Microsoft, Blackberry and Cogeco, are the parties with the best records of government agencies’ data requests. He told Motherboard, “These are the people who are being forced to use their resources to provide assistance to law enforcement, and law enforcement can’t even be bothered to record and disclose themselves how often this is going on.” He mentioned that though wiretap data must be recorded, no legislation forces the government to show how often security agencies acquire subscriber and CDR data.
In a separate interview, Christopher Parsons expressed concern with the practices of taxi and rideshare mobile application Uber. Reportedly, the company has developed software to map where clients were going using their app, and thus were able to track their movements and observe their patterns. This information was not just available to drivers, but staff and executives of the company as well. Parsons said that the data must be carefully controlled with access safeguards, in order to ensure that those viewing the information were doing so on legitimate, business driven grounds, and not simply conducting blatant privacy violations.
Parsons also spoke to Drupal Watchdog for a piece titled “Drupal in the Age of Surveillance: Maintaining Security,” to the Walrus magazine in an article on body-worn cameras for law enforcement, and to the Huffington Post in an article on telecommunications transparency in Canada.