Finding Balance: Personal Privacy or Public Security

Brian Frei

Policy makers around the world have been seeking the publicly acceptable balance between an individual’s right to personal privacy and society’s need for collective security for many years.  States around the world have enacted surveillance and monitoring policies that vary widely depending on local and regional conditions.  While many authoritarian states or states engulfed in conflict have adopted broad policies in favour of enhanced security – including the widespread use of facial recognition technology and social credit systems – most liberal democracies have been slower to adopt policies that weaken personal privacy protections.  Nevertheless, all states experience a level of tension that shifts the balance over time.

In Canada, personal privacy has always been a public priority.  In fact, in 2007, Privacy International ranked Canada 2nd of 49 nations for guaranteeing its citizens rights to privacy across 14 different criteria¹ and in 2016, while speaking to the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner stated that “9 out of 10 told us they were concerned about privacy and, meanwhile, 81% said they are more likely to choose to do business with a company specifically because it has a good reputation for privacy practices.”² However, the continued security challenges posed by terrorism, home-grown extremists, increased globalization, the borderless digital world, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic have all tipped the balance of Canadian public policy in the direction of heightened public security.

Much like what occurred following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to drive lasting change within the Canadian security sector.  Already big data is being leveraged to monitor trends in compliance with stay at home orders using geolocation data from cellphone apps.  The race to produce medical tests and vaccines is driving a new national surge in research and intellectual property.  Competition over critical supplies between States is renewing demand for secure supply chains and in-country manufacturing.  And of course, the sudden transition to working from home has introduced new challenges, new threats and new opportunities to all business sectors.  There can be no doubt that the pendulum has already begun its swing away from personal privacy and towards increased security. Only time will determine where the new balance will be found.

Adjusting to this new security environment will take time, for both businesses and for individual Canadians.  There will undoubtedly be a protracted debate over perceived infringements on personal privacy, arguments over the necessity of enhanced collective security and privacy impact assessments that will drive changes in public policy.  Throughout this process, experienced security professionals are available to provide advice and guidance to both the public and private sectors, where they will play an important role in finding the new balance between personal privacy and public security.

Presidia Security Consulting Inc. has extensive experience providing security advice and guidance to policy makers and security professionals throughout Canadian government and private business.  Please contact us at contact@presidiasecurity.com to see how we can help you navigate these changes.


¹ Privacy International 2007, The 2007 International Privacy Ranking, 2007, Privacy International, London WC2R 1BH United Kingdom, http://www.privacyinternational.org/
² https://www.priv.gc.ca/en/opc-news/speeches/2016/sp-d_20160608/

The author, Brian Frei, is the President of Presidia Security Consulting Inc.  He can be reached at bfrei@presidiasecurity.com