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Some things like houses can comfortably last 30 years. Other things are like your 1991 Saturn and could use an update. It has been over 30 years since the Federal Privacy Act was enacted and due to the vastly different methods in which information is stored and transmitted, experts agree it could stand to be updated.


 On 28 Jan. interim federal privacy commissioner Chantal Bernier published the annual Privacy Commission Report, which includes recommendations on how the government could better protect the privacy of Canadians.



Some recommendations include more emphasis on informing the public on how intelligence is gathered, increasing accountability by having regular committees with members of the intelligence community, and regulating access to open-source information like Facebook, Twitter. Regulating access to open-source information is highlighted by Bernier as especially important because Facebook and Twitter have "the potential to become the predominant collection channel” in which information is gathered.


Each individual province and territory has its own privacy act. The Saskatchewan act as well as the federal act are the only ones that have not seen significant updates since they were enacted. 


“Many of the same criticisms that the federal privacy commission are talking about are the same criticisms that I have been talking about with our provincial laws,” said Gary Dickson, information and privacy commissioner of Saskatchewan.


Dickson has been the privacy commissioner of Saskatchewan since 2003 and in each of his annual reports he has called for revision of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act to make it more relevant to our time.  “It's no surprise that (the laws) are ill suited to try and address the kinds of challenges now posed by big data” because there are technologies available now that were unheard of at the time of the act’s adoption, Dickson said.


Balancing the effectiveness of the agencies against the privacy of the citizens is a difficult task because “privacy laws do slow down the process but it’s difficult to say definitively if that is a good thing or bad thing,” According to Jim Farney, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Regina.


“Separating intent to do something with just saying you are going to do something” is another issue Farney said agencies will need to deal with while sifting through information from social media websites. “And unfortunately, nationality will often inform their decision as to whether or not to act,” he said.


“People are generally not aware of their privacy rights,” Dickson said, but public opinion on the protection and the extent of those rights is mixed.


Students, who tend to be heavy users of Facebook and other online media, have mixed reactions to social media surveillance.


Alex Cousins, a second year political science student at the U of R, believes the laws should not be changed because “the entire point of a secret service is to be secret, accountability necessarily is at odds with its function.” Besides, he said, “You’re not that interesting.”


“If I was a bad guy then I would be afraid of surveillance but I’m not a bad guy, and I’m not doing bad things, so I don’t really give a shit,” Jesse Schmitz, a second year engineering student said. Schmitz also said he believes there are misconceptions around what information these agencies are gathering.


“They are searching for key phrases that are triggers that this might be a security risk. They’re not looking at your relationship status,” he said.


Others such as Kiera Mitchell are more wary of infringements upon their privacy. "I don’t like people knowing my stuff’" she said. “Stephen Harper really, I think, only cares about his own privacy and he is willing to compromise pretty much anyone else’s privacy.”


Communications Security and Establishment Canada, which specializes in cybersecurity, and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, dealing with human intelligence, are the country's two spy agencies.


In response to the privacy commissioners report, the Conservative government released a statement saying they will “have a dialogue” with Bernier about her recommendations.

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