We are Recognizing The Tyee for Outstanding Reporting Related to Surveillance and Privacy

On June 27th, 2019, at our Annual General Meeting, we’ll be presenting The Tyee with an award that recognizes their outstanding reporting related to surveillance and privacy. (More information about our AGM and registration.)

As a nonprofit society, the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association holds an Annual General Meeting. We like to make our AGMs engaging by inviting a guest speaker to give a talk related to information and privacy rights. This year, we are excited to welcome Bryan Carney, Director of Web Production at The Tyee, as our AGM guest speaker. Bryan’s talk is entitled ‘Accountability Cannot Be Automated’.

FIPA’s Directors and Staff thought that this would be a good opportunity to recognize The Tyee for its consistent attention to stories related to surveillance and privacy. Investigative reporting and insightful writing by Tyee contributors have broadened and informed public debates about a range of important privacy rights issues, including these 2018-2019 examples:

The last few years have seen a welcome across-the-board increase in media attention to surveillance and privacy, driven by, among other things, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, increasing public concerns about Big Data and the power of social media, the ongoing expansion of government surveillance powers, and a steady churn of massive data breaches. There have also been some positive shifts in the tone and scope of media coverage, and we have seen an increased willingness to pose big questions and examine structural and systemic problems.

Despite these developments, many media organizations still struggle with the task of connecting specific surveillance and privacy issues to both the lived experiences of individuals and broader trends like surveillance capitalism.

This is why we are so impressed with The Tyee’s work on these topics. The Tyee consistently publishes detailed and informative stories that examine the everyday dimensions of surveillance practices, address their implications, and pose vital questions about accountability and the adequacy of legal and institutional privacy protections. And, while The Tyee does provide reactive coverage and follow-up reporting when important privacy rights issues are broken by other media organizations, it is also tenaciously proactive, posing questions, following leads, and using FOI and Privacy requests to further original reporting. We would not know what we know about TransLink data sharing, RCMP social media snooping, or the BC connection to the Facebook scandal without the work of Tyee contributors and editors.

So, on behalf of FIPA, kudos to The Tyee for continued excellence in reporting on these vital topics. I am glad that Bryan Carney will be at our AGM to accept this award on behalf of The Tyee, as he has had a hand in many Tyee stories on privacy issues. To The Tyee’s staff, editors, and contributors, I hope that this award serves as recognition of a job well done and an affirmation of the value of continuing to invest in the ‘privacy beat’. We are at a pivotal moment in the history of privacy rights, and we have yet to adequately grapple with the challenges posed by Big Data, surveillance capitalism, the Internet of Things, and the security state. We need more detailed, forward-thinking journalism in this area, and other media organizations would do well to follow in The Tyee’s footsteps.

By Mike Larsen (President of the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association)

Data Subjects: Policing Info World conference

In this special edition episode of our Data Subjects podcast, we revisit our Policing Info World conference. On May 23, 2019, we co-hosted a conference that explored the data behind crime, law enforcement, and surveillance. Along with department of criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the BC Civil Liberties Association, we heard from experts in law enforcement, academia, and the legal profession.

As this was a full-day conference, this episode is very long. Please see the show notes below to find the time codes and descriptions for specific panels and panelists.

This conference wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors: CUPE BC, News Media Canada, and Web exPress.

Show Notes

00:02:15Opening Remarks
00:07:49Panel 1: Data and New 
Surveillance Modes and 
Capacities
00:08:17Moderator: Mike Larsen 
(Professor and Co-Chair, 
Department of Criminology, 
Kwantlen Polytechnic 
University, FIPA 
President)
00:10:00Michelle Davey 
(Superintendent, 
Investigative Support Services, 
Vancouver Department)
00:28:00Dr. Wade Deisman (Associate 
Dean, Faculty of Arts, Kwantlen 
Polytechnic University)
00:50:10Josh Paterson (Executive Director, BC Civil Liberties Association)
01:08:38Questions
01:46:00Panel 2: Data and Predictive 
Policing
01:46:30Moderator: Dr. Carroll Boydell 
(Instructor,Department of 
Criminology, Kwantlen 
Polytechnic University)
01:48:02Ryan Prox (S/Constable, Crime 
Analytics Advisory & 
Development Unit, Vancouver
Police Department)
01:48:27Mike Larsen (Professor, 
Department of Criminology, 
Kwantlen Polytechnic 
University)
02:13:00Panel 3: Data and Bias-Free 
Policing
02:13:16Moderator: Sara Neuert 
(Executive Director, BC Freedom 
of Information and Privacy 
Association)
02:14:43Dylan Mazur (Community Lawyer, 
BC Civil Liberties Association)
02:31:36Michelle A. Cameron (Advisor /
Investigator, the University of 
British Columbia)
02:40:01Questions
03:27:09Panel 4: Data and the Border
03:27:24Moderator: Mark Hosak (Director 
of Community Engagement, BC 
Civil Association)
03:29:19Peter Edelmann (Immigration 
Lawyer, Edelmann and Company 
Law Offices)
03:58:41Meghan McDermott (Staff 
Counsel, BC Civil Liberties 
Association)
04:27:26Questions

Introducing: Data Subjects, a new podcast from FIPA

Data Subjects is a new podcast dedicated to issues surrounding privacy and freedom of information rights in Canada.

The show marks FIPA’s first foray into the world of podcasts. Episodes will tackle a wide variety of topics, from the history of FOI in Canada, to the pitfalls of our modern privacy rights, and many more. Each episode will feature interviews with some of Canada’s most renowned figures from both the privacy and FOI landscapes, as well as stories from within FIPA.

Data Subjects will launch this spring and will be available on your favourite podcast provider like Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and on our website.

The SINs of the Speculation and Vacancy Tax

Image of luxury tax square on monopoly board

We’ve been hearing from a lot of British Columbians who are concerned about sharing their Social Insurance Number (SIN) with the Ministry of Finance in the administration of the new Speculation and Vacancy Tax.

The Social Insurance Number is a sensitive piece of personal information that should only be provided under very specific circumstances. The concern from the public centers around the justification of the provincial government in asking for this information.

In order to provide more information to the public, we’ve reached out to the Ministry of Finance about where they draw the authority to request SINs, why they are necessary in the administration of the new tax, and how this information is going to be kept secure.

Before proceeding with the Ministry of Finances response, a general familiarization with two pieces of provincial legislation is useful: The first is with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act , which delineates how public bodies collect, use, and store personal information; and the second is the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act, which outlines the administration of the new tax.

What follows is a response from the Ministry of Finance:

Authority to Collect SIN:

Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) are fundamental to British Columbia and Canada’s taxation system.  The Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act, subsection 64(1) authorizes the administrator to collect information from property owners through the annual declaration in order to administer the act.  Requiring personal information, including the SIN, is necessary for the administrator to determine tax liability, identifying whether property owners pay income taxes in Canada and whether an individual may be eligible for a tax exemption or BC tax credit. 

Why the SIN is being collected:

The collection of SIN is crucial to identify whether home owners pay tax in Canada and to confirm residency information.  This information is relevant to ensure individuals that live in their home, and are eligible, receive the principal residence exemption.  In addition, residency information is required to determine the amount of tax an individual is subject to, and, if applicable, the amount of speculation and vacancy tax credit an individual may receive.

How information is kept secure:

The SIN is one piece of personal information that is collected through the online declaration application.  eTaxBC is the online secure government application that is used for the declaration process.  All information entered into eTaxBC is encrypted at the time of entry.  Once a SIN is collected it is masked and the ability for employees to view the number is controlled by security access on a need to know basis. The personal information that is collected under the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act is protected in a manner consistent with the BC Government’s Information Security Policy, Federal Security Standards, and provisions of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

– The Ministry of Finance