The census and civil liberties: Interview with Micheal Vonn

Published on rabble.ca, by Am Johal, August 27, 2010.

Micheal Vonn is the Policy Director with the BC Civil Liberties Association.  She will be making a submission to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the census.

Q.  What is the BC Civil Liberties Association’s position on the census issue?

The Association does not have a position on the census issue per se, but we are very concerned about the likely alternatives to a mandatory long-form census.  The alternative isn’t being spelled out in any detail, but the discussion keeps revolving around some form of voluntary survey coupled with recourse to “administrative” and other “existing” forms of data.  We have to assume this means pulling personal information from public and private sector databases.  

Q.  What are your specific concerns around privacy issues related to the census?

The collection of comprehensive personal information is always a privacy concern.  That said, as the Federal Privacy Commissioner has noted, Statistics Canada has an excellent record in terms of privacy protection. In fact, the census is not even on the list of serious and urgent privacy concerns in Canada, which includes FINTRAC (Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis), expansion of police surveillance of telecommunications (”lawful access”), airport body scanners, the Canadian no-fly list, laptop searches by the Canadian Border Services Agency, disclosure of Canadian passenger data to foreign governments and centralized electronic health records. For starters … (full interview text). Micheal Vonn is the Policy Director with the BC Civil Liberties Association.  She will be making a submission to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on the census … //

… Q. Anything else?

One of the good things about the census that nobody ever mentions is that it is transparent.  We might argue that the government has no business inquiring into issue X, Y, or Z, even for statistical purposes, but we do know what information is being collected. If we don’t like it, we can complain, write our MP, write letters to the editor, etc. One of the reasons that ‘government by database’ is so dangerous to democracy is that data collection becomes indirect and virtually invisible.  There is a critical loss of accountability when our data trails supplant us in our interactions with government. (full interview text).

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