Is anything private?
A few weeks ago I was asked to fill out a survey from the Writer’s Union of Canada about “Spying and Harassment.” The union was asking writers whether living in a surveillance society was having an impact on their work.
Years ago a friend was working on a TV series for The Comedy Network making fun of the perviest stuff on the internet. At the time he joked that the government must have a pretty interesting file on him. At least I think he was joking.
When I joined Facebook I remember feeling sorry for CSIS because we were doing all the espionage for them. All they had left to do was read about where we were when and that kind of data analysis could be outsourced to India.
Of course, we all know that anything we post on Facebook can be read not only by our “friends” but by Facebook, too. (We do all know that, right?) But now it turns out that Facebook can also read everything you typed into their system and then erased before you came to your senses. That’s not data mining, that’s data fracking.
And if Facebook can do that it’s tough to believe Gmail can’t.
And once Google can do something it’s only a matter of a time before the government figures it out.
Now I’m wondering . . . is there anyone out there who still thinks anything they’re doing online or off is secret? I’m guessing these days the best way to make sure your information remains secret is to put it in an online Canadian magazine — because who the heck would read that? So in order to insure my complete anonymity from government spies, here’s what the Writer’s Union asked and what Canada’s authors had to say about surveillance.
Have you been spied upon by government or police in relation to your work as a writer?
I was less surprised that five percent answered yes than that 43 percent were confident or naive enough to say “No.” I’m assuming these authors all write cookbooks, and not of the anarchist variety. And even then I expect they’re being over-optimistic. Everyone else answered with “Don’t know” or “Uncertain” or “I’m sure I was just imagining those clicks on my phone line.”
Have you been harassed by government or police in relation to your work as a writer?
Seventeen writers — seven percent of the 253 who answered — said yes.
Keep in mind that a lot of those who answered really do write cookbooks, kids books, academic tomes, and romances. While I’m sure some of those writers claiming harassment are convinced they only get parking tickets because they voted against the Tories, there was a time not so long ago when 17 writers claiming harassment by police or politicians would draw protests from our government against whatever oppressive regime was responsible.
Has your work as a writer been affected by concern about mass surveillance?
Just over 15 percent responded with “Hell, yeah.”
Okay, they clicked “Yes” but this also seems like a figure worth emphasizing.
Do you think mass surveillance will affect your work in future or the work of other writers?
At this point even the cookbook writers agreed there were some recipes they were reluctant to share and the kids writers confessed there were some things little Johnny and Jagrati would never get to read, because just shy of 60 percent answered “Yes.” That’s not just chilling, that’s shaken, stirred, chilled, and frozen.
How important do you think this issue is to the writing community?
Nearly 70 percent declared it either “Important” or “Very important.”
We’re now living in a country where more than half our writers are worried about the government having an impact on what they can write. So now it’s time for the big question. This one’s for you.
How important is this to you?
If you’re concerned about the impact of mass surveillance, please write an email sharing your thoughts and send it to anyone anywhere. Be sure to use the names of a lot of politicians — and a security agency or two.
We all know somebody working for the government will read it.
You can also sign the international Writers Against Mass Surveillance petition here. (You don’t have to be a writer to do so. Just a citizen.)
And you’ll find the Writer’s Union of Canada survey results here.
Edward Snowden, February 27, 2014: What does the state know about you?