The fictional “clean slate” program sought after by Cat Woman (Anne Hathaway) in Dark Knight Rises would erase all data about her, giving her criminal identity a clean slate. But it’s hard to imagine, on this Data Privacy Day 2018,a program in our real world that could undo or prevent the data damage already done to our collective and individual privacy.

Private details, patterns and practices, preferences and pastimes, secrets, hopes and fantasies, some of which you may have chosen to share online with a select audience, and some algorithmically created from seemingly benign bits and pieces of information, are all available for a price. Such data might be used for profit, for fundraising, for police investigations, or for uses that haven’t been invented today, but could be by next Tuesday. Even if you read every privacy policy on every site you visit, there is no way to know how your information might be used, or by who, when. Our privacy laws are based on consent, but when consent can be assumed when you click through a website, it means a lot less than it used to.

And that raises the next problem: often when we talk about risks to data privacy it resembles paranoid, geeky fear-mongering, because the truth is dramatic. Either you dismiss our warnings as hyperbolic or surrender your privacy in despair. If you can’t beat’em, join’em: at least you will be notified when your favorite toilet paper brand goes on sale, concomitant with your biorhythmic patterns.

But we at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association want to help you feel less helpless. We will advocate for legal checks and balances in the privacy Armageddon circa 2018, albeit we do so as a group that has fought for free speech for over half a century. We will fight for your rights in the courts, across Canada.

And there are definitely things you can do, too. In fact, managing your data privacy is not unlike a diet and exercise regime—not always fun, but it’s good for you. There are tools to help  maintain data privacy and sites like ours, and the ones we share below,  that can help you stay up-to-date on the inventive, intrusive ways corporations, governments, and police collect information about you, and help you learn how to stand up for your own rights.

Some might say the technology changes too fast for government to keep up, let alone stay ahead of the curve.  But CCLA believes that the core principles our privacy laws are built around—consent, full disclosure about why information is collected and how it will be used and shared, and accountability when these principles aren’t met—remain valid. We need updated laws and renewed commitment as a society to find creative, enforceable ways to make sure that “online privacy” isn’t an oxymoron: it’s an expectation.

Michael Bryant (Executive Director) and Dr. Brenda McPhail (Privacy Director)


In honour of Privacy Day on January 28th, 2018, here are some of CCLA’s favorite privacy-related things:


Legal wins

CCLA intervenes in cases that have the potential to affect privacy for people in Canada. Below you can read about two recent ones:

  • R v Marakah, confirming that those of us who communicate by text message may reasonably expect privacy in electronic conversations.
  • Douez v Facebook, a win for social media users who want the ability to seek a remedy under Canadian law


Helpful information about privacy, current technology, risks and rights

CCLA’s Talk Rights web resources are informative and accessible, written by amazing law student volunteers. Check them out in the Privacy Rights section of Talk Rights!

For students, teachers, or anyone interested in learning what teens think are the important privacy issues their friends should know about, see CCLA’s/CCLET’s Peer Privacy Protectors Guidebook (and website)–written by teens, for teens (with funding from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada).

If you’re interested in international surveillance and privacy, take a look at a report we worked on with international partners, Surveillance and Democracy: Chilling Tales from Around the World.


Privacy Protective Tools

CCLA fights on your behalf for privacy rights, but while we’re working on making sure our laws get better, there are some steps individuals can take too. Here are some great resources to help you take control of your personal information as you live your life online. CCLA belongs to the International Civil Liberties Network, and our network website, “Surveillance Matters,” is full of privacy tools and advice (and a message from Edward Snowden.)

Digital security should be centred around an individual analysis of your security goals, and the risks you are concerned about. The best tool out there to help you go through that process is from the renowned Canadian institute, Citizen Lab, and is called  Security Planner.


What privacy questions would you like answered?

Fill out CCLA’s Privacy Day survey and help us decide which privacy issues to focus on in 2018.