Canada Government's Social Media Monitoring Raises Questions About Freedom of Expression


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hooked into social media, but some feel the Conservative government may be going too far, monitoring chat rooms, sites such as Facebook and other public forums.

This CTV News report posted about two years ago raises questions that are even more relevant today, with the rash of activism surrounding Idle No More. After all, aboriginals and others deemed potential threats have been monitored for less.

In the video below, CTV technology expert Carmi Levy discussed the pros and cons of having the government extend its social media and online presence beyond simple connection and into full-scale monitoring. He gave "kudos" to Harper for moving into the social media realm, while expressing reservations about what that might do to free expression.

“It opens up a little bit of a question, ‘I’d like to call it a Pandora's Box,” he said. “What exactly is the government's aim here? And what do they hope to accomplish with what they find out?”

Moreover, “what do they hope to accumulate?” he asked. “Where does the data go?”

It’s no secret that Harper’s government has been monitoring aboriginal groups since 2005, when he first took office. Documents that came out in 2011 indicated that both the ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were monitoring First Nations communities all over Canada such as the Algonquins of Barriere Lake (resisting AAND's intervention in their government), Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) First Nation (fighting against the Taseko mine proposal) and Grassy Narrows First Nation (which has been waging an anti-logging blockade for 10 years).

Harper's government drew widespread criticism when it came to light later in 2011 that the feds were closely following the activities of child advocate Cindy Blackstock.

Levy for one said it raised the possibility of self-censorship online in what should be public forums providing a space for freedom of expression.

"What if someone from the federal government is watching what I'm saying?” he said of being in an online chat room. “Do I have to change the tone or temper of my argument simply because I'm being watched? It is a little bit scary."

The implications are “a little Big Brotherish,” he said. “If you're stuck wondering who's watching, and what are they going to do if I say the 'wrong thing,' you are going to necessarily change the way you involve yourself in public discussion or debate."