by Timothy Blinks
Trump’s election is already threatening the tattered privacy of Canadians. His fourth Executive Order, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of United States,” is not only a direct attack on undocumented immigrants in the U.S., it also contains a small clause with profound implications for everyone outside of the United States.
Section 14 of the Executive Order states:
“Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.”
While privacy protections in the U.S. have always been weaker for those who are not citizens or permanent residents, this order sweeps these meager protections away.It means Canadians have no legal rights whenever their data flows through American networks, servers, and companies – something that is extremely common, routine and often inevitable. The same thing goes whenever our government shares its data on us in accordance with various security agreements with U.S.
This means that there is no better time to start taking concrete action to protect your digital privacy and liberty.
So here is this column’s first practical recommendation:
Use an Encrypted Service for Texting and Calling
Signal is an Android and Apple app that offers end-to-end encryption for texts and phone calls. It is offered by a non-profit software group called Open Whisper Systems. The code for the app is open-source, which means that outside programmers can independently verify that it works and does exactly what it promises, with no backdoors.
Open Whisper Systems keeps minimal records. When it was subpoenaed in a case last year in the U.S., it could only provide the first and last times the user accessed the program.
To send texts to someone or call them, the other person must have Signal installed. It uses data or Wi-Fi to transmit messages.
I’ve found using Signal to be just as intuitive and functional as any built-in text or phone app. Downloading it and setting it up from the Android or Apple app stores takes about two minutes and four taps on the screen.
Every source I’ve seen strongly recommends it, including Edward Snowden. There are some similar services like Silent Phone and WhatsApp but they aren’t open-source like Signal; WhatsApp was also bought by Facebook in 2014 and, according to various tech sources such as theverge.com, has started sharing user account data with the tech giant.
Of course, it’s also important to lend our strength to the collective political actions that are fighting back against surveillance. Michael Geist, a law professor specializing in digital media, has called for people to put pressure on the Canadian Privacy Commissioner to review the implications of Trump’s executive order. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has called for the Canadian government to “immediately review the impact of our information sharing agreements with the United States,” explaining that “Canada cannot enable discrimination based on country of origin, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. Canada must ensure that innocent persons are not put at risk by information provided by Canada.” Their website provides templates for those wishing to contact their MP with similar demands.
Our privacy and digital liberties may be under attack but we are not without weapons in this war. Dig in and fight back!
This article first appeared in Vol. 9, No. 5 (February/March 2017).