Six in 10 Canadians would surrender online privacy to “foil terrorist plots,” survey finds

Only a small sliver of Canadians are concerned with keeping their data private, especially in the name of safety and anti-terrorism efforts, according to a survey released yesterday by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA).

About half of Canadians said it was “completely unacceptable” for governments to monitor citizens’ email and online activities, showing a pretty clear split between Canadians as to whether privacy is a priority. Yet that number shifted significantly when pollsters asked respondents if the Canadian government could monitor everyone’s email and other online activities, if officials said that might prevent future terrorist attacks.

About 77 per cent of Canadians polled, or three in four, said that would be “completely acceptable,” or “acceptable in some circumstances,” with about six out of 10 saying they would “be willing to give up their Internet privacy if it would help the government foil terrorist plots.”

The results were according to a survey of about 1,130 Canadian adults, polled by marketing research firm Ipsos Reid on behalf of CIRA. The survey was also weighted demographically to reflect the adult population in Canada.

“The poll demonstrates the complexity that underpins surveillance issues,” said David Fewer, director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Internet Clinic, in a statement.

“While clearly a majority of people would accept some loss in privacy if it would prevent terrorist attacks, the mass and indiscriminate monitoring of all Canadians’ online activities is neither necessary for the foiling of terrorist plots, nor a guarantee of safety.”

Yet when it comes to a deeper knowledge of what data is on display and what isn’t, many Canadians seem to be in the dark.

The survey found only two out of 10 Canadians had heard “a lot” about the National Security Agency (NSA) PRISM program in the U.S., while about half had heard “a little.” Three in 10 had never heard of the NSA and the controversy surrounding it.

Many respondents also seemed confused about whether their Internet activity is supposed to be private. About 18 per cent said their Internet activity is confidential, while 61 per cent said they don’t believe it is. About 20 per cent said they didn’t know.

About four out of 10 Canadians also believed foreign governments were tracking their Internet activity, with about three in 10 saying they were unsure, and one in 10 saying they don’t think this is the case.

Beyond governments monitoring their data, most Canadians indicated they wouldn’t be happy with advertisers or marketers tapping into their Internet activity to sell products and services to them. About 80 per cent said they would not accept this, though two in 10 said they would be willing to give up some of their online privacy if it meant marketing efforts would be personalized for them.

The survey’s results are “discouraging, but important,” said Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law, in a statement.

“As much of the world is engaged in a fierce debate over surveillance, Canadian complacency is a major issue. It speaks to the need for greater public education and awareness of current surveillance activities, oversight programs, and the implications for privacy and freedom of expression for all Canadians.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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