THE ADVOCATE 839
VOL. 77 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2019
Lest anyone become complacent thinking these things are happening
only in Britain and the United States, Tong concluded her article by referring
to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance (of which Canada is a member).16
She noted that this group has the capability of surveilling vast populations.
While we have no way of knowing how much access they have to our private
video and audio communications, we do know that these systems grow
more sophisticated and intrusive year by year.
All of these technological innovations, of course, come under the comforting
heading of “safety measures”. Much of this may seem like an excellent
application of modern technology to detect and suppress crime until
one recalls the cautionary words of President Franklin Roosevelt in his
speech to Congress in 1941: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to
purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”17
THE DISQUIETING PRICE OF CONVENIENCE
We now have the disembodied presence of Alexa in our homes. On verbal
command, Alexa will turn on the lights, set the temperature and start the
coffee. This saves us the trouble of having to flip a switch or two. But at what
cost? We forget that Alexa responds to our commands by listening.
As a society, we have become habituated not only to intrusion but also to
an equally troublesome problem: self-divulgence. We regularly, and of our
own volition, give over personal information to non-state actors in the form
of corporations such as Facebook, Google and Apple, among others. Jennifer
Senior, a journalist for The New York Times, refers to this as the “privacy
paradox”: the contradiction between our contempt for companies that
engage in surveillance of our lives and the willing consignment of our personal
information for the convenience of online services.18
Surveys going back decades show that Canadians place a high premium
on personal privacy.19 So what is going on here? We have grown accustomed
to convenience. These services are held out as being free of charge, but the
old adage holds: nothing is free in life. When we utilize these services, we
simply pay with a different form of currency—namely, our personal data.
It would seem that the apparently benign experience of being online
numbs our alertness to the dangers the Internet poses. We become lost in
the experience, as if in a mesmerized state. Any sense that we are under
surveillance is rendered figmental. Yet, when the intrusive nature of what
is happening is brought to light, we become momentarily indignant and
then fall back into the same pattern. This cycle has a familiar ring to it—a
compulsive pattern of behaviour that is extremely difficult to break. In
other words, we are addicts.