Big Brother in the 21st Century

by Simon Goland, November 23, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about Big Brothers, of the Orwell kind.

My parents and I left Russia, or Soviet Union, as it was called then, in 1974. We left pretty much everything there, including many dear friends. Quite a few people chose to severe all contact with us, once they found out that we are leaving to Israel. Being friends with what was known then as a “foreign element” was not something that was considered a good thing by the Soviet authorities.

Yet, there were a few friends who wanted us to remain in contact. They asked us to write to them, once we arrive and settle in Israel. I remember one man in particular; “Uncle Alex” I called him, even though there was no blood connection between us. He was an older man, and one that spent many summers and winters with us in the wilderness, skiing, gathering berries, picking mushrooms, or camping and telling stories by the fire. “I am not afraid of them,” he would tell us. “I have no family, no children, nothing. What can they do to me anyway?” He was one of the few people who wanted us to stay in contact and write.

Yet, we never did.

“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about that you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.” – Harriet Rubin

Years later, I understood why we never wrote. All the mail in and out of the Soviet Union was opened and censored, and my parents decided to not even risk getting any of their old friends in trouble, causing them to be looked at “unfavorably” because of letters from Israel, the “enemy of the Russian state.”

Fast forward to present time. The Big Brother might be a story from 1984, yet it is alive and well today, cleverly disguised in a more modern outfit. Out of all places, in a democratic and “modern” country like Canada, where the following two articles just recently crossed my path.

The first one is titled “U.S. has right to Canadians’ info.” Apparently, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews defended federal legislation Tuesday that would pave the way to providing the U.S. with personal information about Canadians flying over that country, even if these Canadians are not even touching ground in the US. Obviously, Canadians do not have any legal rights any more to our privacy information, and our government is not going to protect it. Full story here: .

The other story is called “New Big Brother Laws Would Reshape Canada’s Internet.” In it, the Canadian government tabled its latest proposal with three bills that received only limited attention despite their potential to fundamentally reshape the Internet in Canada. The bills contain a three-pronged approach focused on information disclosure, mandated surveillance technologies, and new police powers. Full story here: .

The first prong mandates the disclosure of Internet provider customer information without court oversight (English: we will get a LOT of your personal information whenever we want, without any legal obstacles).

The second prong requires Internet providers to dramatically re-work their networks to allow for real-time surveillance. In English, these are very expensive upgrades, which means many of the smaller and independent providers might find themselves out of business. Welcome to the world of fairness and equal opportunities to all.

The third prong creates new police powers designed to obtain access to the surveillance data. These include new transmission data warrants that would grant real-time access to all the information generated during the creation, transmission or reception of a communication including the type, direction, time, duration, origin, destination or termination of the communication. Oh, and by the way – if (or when, your choice of words) such surveillance will be occurring against you, the Internet providers would also be prohibited from disclosing the fact that you have been subject to surveillance or information disclosures.

“We have given away far too many freedoms in order to be free. Now it’s time to take some back.” – John Le Carre

I don’t know about you, but for me, it is a moment of a deja-vu, 36 years later, in a seemingly democratic country.

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.