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Community Projects 28 July 2015

Crowdsource Privacy Plan

David Christopher
By David ChristopherCommunications Manager, OpenMedia

Exciting news! Our organization, OpenMedia, has just launched Canada’s Privacy Plan – a pro-privacy action plan, based on feedback from tens of thousands of everyday Canadians whose ideas shaped it from start to finish.

This ambitious project was made possible, in part, through a donation from the Internet Society’s Community Grants Programme – and our small team here at OpenMedia couldn’t be more grateful. We formally launched the plan at a packed event here in Vancouver – you can check out the photos from our launch party Tumblr here, and read the full version of Canada’s Privacy Plan at PrivacyPlan.ca. We embarked on this project a year ago, with the aim of engaging and informing Canadians  about online privacy issues. Privacy is a matter of growing concern to Canadians who, in recent years, have witnessed a steady stream of revelations about how the government, not least through its Communications Security Establishment (CSE) spy agency, have been spying on Canadians’ private online activities, even going so far as to tap the free wi-fi at a major Canadian airport. We had a number of aims at the outset of this project:

  • We wanted to engage Canadian citizens and experts in creating forward thinking policy recommendations that will address a range of online privacy issues.
  • We wanted to gain a better understanding of Canadians’ priorities and expectations when it comes to privacy.
  • We wanted to learn more about how Canadians want to see their privacy protected in an interconnected, digital age.
  • Finally we wanted to develop a sharable methodology section or toolkit we hope can be used as a model for how the Internet can be used for participatory, policy making.

To engage Canadians, we worked with experts to create an innovative online crowdsourcing tool, to ensure as many perspectives and ideas as possible were heard.

Our tool asked people to tell us what was most important to them when it comes to safeguarding privacy in a digital age. We also asked people for their opinions on a range of proposals aimed at addressing Canada’s growing privacy deficit. We were blown away by the response when we launched this crowdsourcing tool. Thousands of people took part, and our tool was shared far and wide by prominent organizations, with a little help along the way from iconic Canadian author Margaret Atwood. All this invaluable input went directly into shaping our privacy plan. Based on this wealth of grassroots feedback, the report sets out three high-level policy recommendations to roll back our privacy deficit:

  • Get A Warrant:

Require government authorities to obtain a warrant to access Canadians’ sensitive personal information. The report also proposes tougher privacy laws to roll back the information disclosure provisions of Bill C-51 and ensure government agencies use personal information strictly for the purpose it is provided. Despite the Supreme Court’s R. v. Spencer decision last year, much work remains to be done to prevent warrantless access to Canadians’ information.

  • End Mass Surveillance:

Halt all surveillance activities that involve the warrantless collection of Canadians’ personal information, including the bulk collection of deeply revealing metadata. We also propose that surveillance activities require judicial, not political authorization, and that the government cease collecting and analyzing what Canadians say on social media.

  • Embrace Accountability:

Ensure strong, independent oversight and review bodies for the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Rein in the steep costs of surveillance by requiring the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Auditor General to develop clear cost projections for surveillance activities.

It’s clear that Canadians are absolutely fed up with weak privacy safeguards, spy agency surveillance, and a culture of weak accountability. As Katherine, one of our crowdsourcing participants, said:

“The pendulum has swung WAY too far in the direction of limiting our privacy. Standards need to be adjusted to make privacy the default and transparency must be mandatory.”

Going forward, we’ll be meeting with key decision-makers in Ottawa, to urge them to listen to what Canadians want and adopt the key recommendations of our privacy plan.

Another core goal of our work was to inform other organizations, in Canada and around the world, who may be considering using crowdsourcing methods for their outreach or policy work. Although this project was both topic- and country-specific (“Privacy in Canada”), we believe our methods could quite straightforwardly be adapted for other topics and settings.

The Internet can be a powerful tool for more participatory models of decision-making, and we hope other groups benefit from the detailed methodology section we included in our published plan. You can learn more about how we shaped this project at: https://privacyplan.ca/conclusion/methodology

Finally – and above all else – thank you to the 125,000 everyday Canadians whose input shaped this report from start to finish. It’s just inspiring to know that so many people were willing to give the time to provide their input – and then to help spread the word and encourage others to take part. That’s the power of crowdsourcing – the best ideas come from everyday Canadians far more often than they come from within the Ottawa bubble.

You can learn more about this project by visiting PrivacyPlan.ca.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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