Half of Canadians (49%) believe it is acceptable for the government to monitor e-mail and other online activities in some circumstances, according to the results of a new survey released by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (www.CIRA.ca), the organization that manages the .CA Internet domain.
When those circumstances include preventing "future terrorist attacks," the number of Canadians who say online surveillance is acceptable jumps to 77%.
“Since May of this year, media outlets and stakeholder groups around the world have been consumed by the revelations that the U.S. government monitors the activities of Internet users around the world,” CIRA said in a release.
The results are “startling enough” that CIRA said it plans to call for a national dialogue on the subject.
As recently as January of this year, the "Survey of Canadians on Privacy-Related Issues," from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, found that two thirds of Canadians were concerned with protecting their privacy.
The organization added that survey results are especially disturbing given that that unlike with phone taps or the opening of mail, both of which require a warrant, online surveillance often happens without transparent judicial oversight and yet appear to be raising relatively little concern.
“Trust is the foundation that supports all transactions - social, financial and at the Domain Name System - on the Internet," said Byron Holland, President and CEO of CIRA. “When an uninvited third party is introduced into those transactions it erodes that trust. It erodes all that has enabled the Internet to be the greatest driver of positive social and economic change in centuries.”
Canadians' apparent apathy may be rooted in simple ignorance. CIRA's survey found that only 18% of Canadians believe Internet activity is confidential. Four in 10 believe the Canadian government is tracking their Internet activity.
According to Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, "these are discouraging but important results. As much of the world is engaged in a fierce debate over surveillance, Canadian complacency is a major issue.
"It speaks to the need for greater public education and awareness of current surveillance activities, oversight programs, and the implications for privacy and freedom of expression for all Canadians."