Welcome To 1984

A friend in the U.K. wanted to know if I had seen the news article. Was I aware that the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) had been tracking 33 million Canadian cell phones to monitor citizens’ movement during the pandemic?

I hadn’t seen that specific article – but I knew it was going on. I seem to have reached the point where such government actions no longer seem outrageous or illegal. I’m just saddened.

That there is no national outrage disturbs me. Canada still has a democratic government – but I can see how easy it would be to slide over the line into totalitarianism. A public health “emergency” or a climate emergency might be all it takes.

There are only 38 million people in Canada. Take away those children without mobile phones, and perhaps some seniors, and I suspect you are left with 33 million people. In other words, Big Brother is watching each one of us.

That suspicion is magnified by the name of the program under which the information was provided to government. “Data For Good.” What a great example of Newspeak.

The claim is of course that the phone companies are not providing individual data, just aggregate information. Can you smell the manure wafting out of that statement? Where does the aggregate data come from? From tracking individuals.

How hard would it be to take the aggregate and provide individual data? Do you really believe the information on my movements isn’t ready available to government at the click of a button?

Most Canadians probably don’t care. The thought is, “I have nothing I’m trying to hide, from the government or anyone else, so why worry?” I understand that. I too have nothing to hide.

However, it is the principle of the thing that annoys me. I’m writing this while using public transit. There is no reason the PHAC needs to know what bus I am on. There is no health emergency that justifies such intrusion. And if the PHAC thinks there is, let them go to open court and ask for temporary authority to spy on me.

Privacy is one of those things we sacrifice for convenience. We all know that every time we go online we are being tracked, usually for commercial purposes. Social media is free because your data is worth more than a subscription fee. We’ve learned to live with that.

Government surveillance though is something we haven’t given explicit consent to. I agree to let Facebook know who my friends are. The government didn’t ask me if it could track my phone. When it does that, they then know where I have been, and who I have spoken to – because they are tracking that person’s phone too.

Except they don’t really know.

In Turkey, charges have been filed because the accused’s cell phone pinged the same tower as someone else the security police were interested in. Not that there was any evidence the two people had ever met, but Turkish authorities don’t seem to care about that. Being in the same area (supposedly – the files were sealed) is enough for guilt by association. Turkey is not a shining example of democracy these days. Is that what we want in Canada?

I suppose I could remove the SIM card from my phone whenever I leave the house. That would make me more difficult to track. It would also mean I couldn’t use my phone when I wanted.

Also, in a police state, that action would flag you to the security establishment. They would wonder what you were trying to hide and perhaps send someone to follow you. That couldn’t happen in Canada, could it?

One of the concerning things about the COVID-19 pandemic has been how easily Canadians have surrendered their constitutional rights and allowed government to do what it likes. I suppose that makes sense in a way.

After all, we love Big Brother.


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