Human rights prof testifies against bill on national security measures


    St. Thomas University human rights professor Christina Szurlej went to the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 1 to testify against Bill C-59 in front of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.

    Szurlej said the bill, meant to replace Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act of 2015, has both strengths and weaknesses.

    The bill would create an Intelligence Commissioner and National Security and Intelligence Review Agency. Part of the bill also allows the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to collect publicly available data on Canadians and some foreigners. This includes data obtained through subscriptions, purchasing or hacking, meaning any personal information could potentially be collected and retained.

    Szurlej said this is a human rights violation.

    “The problem with this bill is not only the collection of personal information, but also of algorithms [which are used to predict people’s preferences and habits]” she said.

    “A 2015 Facebook study conducted on over 86,000 volunteers revealed that Facebook algorithms were more accurate at predicting personality traits than a person’s colleagues, friends or spouse. We are reaching a point where algorithms know people better than they know themselves.”

    Szurlej said access to such a database of information could be used to identify and influence undecided voters.

    When public or personal data is collected, there is also the opportunity for it to be manipulated. This can be done not only by changing what is on the system, but also through advanced technology like the Face 2 Face model, which records the movements of someone’s face and inserts these movements onto the face of another individual. Through the Face 2 Face model someone can be seen doing or saying something they never did or said. This altering of information reduces citizens’ ability to challenge the authenticity of data they may not even be aware is being collected, Szurlej said.

    For Szurlej, these measures go against democracy. They also violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by undermining freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial.

    “People are not seeing the bigger picture,” Szurlej said.

    “This bill will go forward and it will have a chilling effect.”


    This post has been updated from a previous version, which had misquoted Christina Szurlej as saying “The public’s data can be used by the government to influence people’s mind on the time to vote, and the party in power could even win an election based on what they see from citizens.” and “They want to keep their privacy, but won’t change their behavior regarding how they keep all their social medias’ information public.”  Other parts of the story have been altered for clarity and accuracy. 


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