Canada, check your privacy settings

Canada took to Facebook like a duck to water. Millions signed on and started sharing photos, videos, birthday information, likes and dislikes. Facebook has attracted a worldwide user base approaching 500 million with a business model that is still evolving.

Questions about the business practices of Facebook, Google’s Buzz initiative and the activities of other Internet companies are fueling a national and international discussion about how individuals’ personal data is being gathered, stored, mined, dispersed and commercialized. (Mercury News, 27 May, 2010)

Despite all the attention on Facebook however, cybersecurity experts warn that this is just the tip of the iceberg. On May 18, 2010, CBC reported that the national security agency CSIS has warned Canada’s government, university and industry computer systems are increasingly under cyber-attack. Never mind knowing that I like listening to Lucinda Williams, what about Canada’s institutional intellectual property?

Ronald Deibert, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies (University of Toronto) responds to the focus on Facebook in the following way, “The average Internet user is largely oblivious to a much larger problem – the increasingly intense geopolitical competition hidden within the subterranean layers of cyberspace. The actors in this competition range from state intelligence agencies and armed forces to individuals, criminals, militants and extremists.”

Ronald Deibert may sound extreme himself. After all, aren’t we just talking about sharing some photos? The reality is much more complex and we only occasionally see the battles rise to public consciousness, as when China shut out YouTube. Deibert goes on to say, “The battles are multi-dimensional, from authoritarian regimes attempting to stifle political opposition and dissidents to organized crime engaged in industrial and political espionage. The battle threatens to undermine the Internet as an open and valuable public space unless we take steps to build norms of mutual restraint at all levels, from the global to the local.”

Lovers of “open” may have questions for Deibert, but he’s not opposed to a free internet. Like the freedoms we enjoy as citizens walking on the planet, we do need to be aware that there are forces online attempting to undermine the freedom we take for granted there.

Ronald Deibert and Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Dr. Ann Cavoukian will discuss cybersecurity in more detail during Net Change Week, Thursday June 10 at the MaRS Centre. Moderated by CBC Commentator Jesse Hirsh, the panel will address the following questions; When is it in the public interest to allow the free flow of information; and when is it in the national interest to control it?

You can register to hear this discussion by visiting the Net Change events page here.