If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about government surveillance. Such is the mantra of those who would willingly authorize the government to give more powers to spy agencies without the requisite increase in parliamentary or judicial oversight. Yet, spies are human, too, and like all humans, are prone to acts of excess and zeal (it was those excesses that led to the creation CSIS in the first place). They will break the law in the service of their particular definition of the good. They will happily enslave you to protect you. And while we all want to be protected, few of us — other than fans of 50 Shades of Grey — want to be enslaved.
Poppycock, you say. All we want and all the government wants is to make sure terrorists don’t have a free hand. Well, they don’t anyway. The government has most of the powers they want already — they simply want to be able to exercise them without having to justify it further than to say it is in the public good; in the interests of security, all things are necessary.
Really? As a democrat and a socialist, I’m not opposed to government but I’m not exactly willing to give over to them all of my rights and freedoms, merely to forestall that which is inevitable to all of us anyway (death, in case you haven’t guessed). Especially when there is no certainty (or even likelihood) that anything they do will actually increase my safety.
But it’s just about bad guys (and gals), right?
Let’s play a thought experiment.
Since the early 1970s, there was an organization cutely called ALF. The initials stand for the Animal Liberation Front. They oppose cruelty to animals. So they are sort of like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) on steroids. What ALF did was to break into science labs and ‘liberate’ animals that were being experimented on. Sometimes, they then burnt the labs down. They also carried out raids on factory farms. It was for the animals — and if a few humans put at risk (ALF claims never to harm people), that was a small price to pay.
Now suppose that ALF wanted to dramatically increase their numbers. Where would they go? Well, of course, they might start by joining PETA. Now, PETA doesn’t advocate violence – though they have no problem with misogyny. But some members of PETA might be open to ALF’s blandishments. But maybe ALF wouldn’t stop there. Maybe they would also check out branches of legitimate Humane Societies or go work in animal shelters or at veterinary schools. Among all those people, there might be a few possible recruits.
In the eyes of the government, ALF is a terrorist organization (they actually are on the list) so pretty soon — with unlimited powers of surveillance — CSIS would be watching every person who expressed abhorrence at puppy mills or factory farms or testing cosmetics on animals. These are all legitimate political positions to take — except if the government (unfettered by the courts or Parliament) views them as harboring or advocating for more extreme measures.
Love your cat, Mr. Harper? You might be a terrorist. You might be on a no-fly list. Or worse.
But that’s ten minutes.