Did you know the RCMP has a Tactical Internet Intelligence Unit? Or that this unit may scour social media looking for information about you?
Neither did Rachel Small, a political activist from Toronto, until a Canadian Press reporter gave her a copy of the RCMP’s 6-page report on her.
“I found it kind of creepy and unsettling because of the way that they were compiling information about my life. Why is the RCMP spending so much time and resources to compile information on community organizers and activists in Toronto?”
The RCMP says part of their duties are maintaining order, and due diligence demands they ensure no public safety threats exist.
Small says she is an activist, not a threat to society, and takes issue with the RCMP’s “invasion” of her privacy.
The RCMP report was compiled shortly after she and another member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network attended a 2015 election debate. The 6-page document contained information gleaned from internet searches, social media posts and other publicly available information.
“It’s hard to not feel like your privacy has been invaded,” she said.
Phil Gurski, a former senior strategic analyst at CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, agrees with the RCMP.
“First, Ms. Small is wrong: those who work in national security and public safety do not profile. We look for information to suggest that there are either reasonable grounds to believe (RCMP) or suspect (CSIS) someone poses a threat to the civil order before we begin an investigation,” he wrote in his Hill Times column.
“Canadians are constitutionally allowed – as we should be – to protest and to expression dissent. We are not, however, permitted to do so through the use of violent methods. That is a criminal offence. Scrolling through an open FaceBook page to see if someone stupidly calls for acts of violence to protest the mining sector is no such invasion of privacy. If your Aunt Betty can look at your postings, so can CSIS and the RCMP. If you want to prevent that from happening I highly advise you to change your privacy settings,” Gurski said.
Courts routinely rule that an individual has no expectation of privacy while in a public space. This includes protesting at an election debate, campaign event or simply standing in front of City Hall.
There is also no expectation of privacy on social media. As Phil Gurski correctly observes, if your Facebook account is open so the world can see your posts, you effectively abandon your right to privacy.
Since the point of social media is to share what’s happening in our lives, few of us are willing to lock down our social media accounts and protect our privacy rights online.
“The fact that someone’s an activist should not be enough to render them the subject of suspicion by law enforcement,” said Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
This may be true, but from the RCMP’s viewpoint, how do they know who is and who is not a threat until they research a person of interest?
An individual’s right to protest in public is balanced against the RCMP’s mandate to protect society.
These two principles collide, as they inevitably must.
This same principle applies to writers.
Like Rachel Small, years ago I was given documents returned through an Access to Information Request. It contained pages and pages about me – all gleaned from social media posts and articles I wrote criticizing a specific RCMP member for going door-to-door seizing guns during the Slave Lake Fire.
Was I surprised the RCMP expressed concern about what I wrote?
Did I feel the RCMP violated my privacy when they compiled the information about me?
The thought never crossed my mind.
If I don’t want my words and actions viewed publicly, which includes the RCMP, CSIS and anyone else who cares to take a peek, the solution is simple.
Stop publishing my writing on the Internet.
Likewise, if Rachel Small doesn’t want the RCMP or some other agency exploring the possibility she many be of concern, stop protesting in public spaces.
The odds that Rachel Small will stop fighting for what she believes in are about the same as the odds of me never writing another word about guns, civil rights and police violations of those rights, it’s safe to assume we must both accept one simple fact.
Since our actions are public, they come with a certain level of scrutiny.
Now, back to fighting for what we believe in, no matter who is watching, right Rachel?
Is Rachel Small correct? Did the RCMP violate her right to privacy?
Or are Phil Gurski and I right when we say the RCMP has every right to comb through our public information and decide whether we pose a threat to society?
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.