Privacy rights only go so far

A recent article in Macleans magazine by Philip Slayton questions “how far we should go to keep out the evils like child pornography.”

A recent article in Macleans magazine by Philip Slayton questions “how far we should go to keep out the evils like child pornography.”

He writes of how individual lives have been ruined by the sweeping powers of Canadian Border Security guards who do not have to respect the privacy act, and they can actually look at the contents of your laptop, just on a vague suspicion that something illegal might be there.

That’s how Bishop Lahey got caught, allegedly with child porn on his laptop.

But Slayton seems to think that what was wrong was the seizure of the laptop by the border guards, not the alleged possession of child porn.

He gives no thought to the child victims involved.

His article goes on to discuss how some people have the benefit of savvy advice – like lawyers advising corporate officials not to travel with company secrets on the laptop (good advice as laptops are so easily stolen or forgotten!); and that gay and lesbian websites advise “tech-savvy gay men will at least encrypt their porn.”


If pornography is illegal, why should we be advocating that people should carry porn ‘safely’ by taking special precautions to hide their guilt or that they be entitled to special privacy protection?

Shouldn’t the issue of privacy be relevant to those who are not committing crimes? How can we have privacy laws that allow national networks to continuously screen “news” images of the dying Robert Dziekanski in an aberrant and unethical (in my view) public viewing of a snuff film – claiming this is for the public good (so much for his right to privacy!); while on the other hand we defeat the efforts of domestic law enforcement agencies over and over as they catch criminals in the act . . . and the criminals get off in court because they claim their privacy was invaded?

Where are our ethical values? Do we have any left?

If you are doing something wrong, it is wrong whether you get caught or not. And if you get caught, why should claims of privacy provide protection from the law?

Isn’t that the whole angle of criminal thinking? They do things subversively, privately, intentionally sneaking through or under the radar, hoping that important social values like a sense of common decency, trust and cooperation can be used as foils to cover up the dastardly deeds?

And what of this advice to gays to encrypt ‘their porn’?

For years we have been hearing about how being gay and gay marriage is ‘just like’ conventional love and romance, but of an alternate gender, and thus deserving of mainstream respect in society. But this advice suggests that gays believe themselves to be in a special category.

They somehow have a special right to have porn because it is an important lifestyle element – and who is the federal government or a Border Security guard to deny them that?

Going back to Slayton’s article called Crossing the Line — he argues that “Freedom has its costs” – one of them being apparently that he feels it is going too far to have Canadian Border Security do ‘unreasonable search and seizure’.

I ask, what’s unreasonable about catching criminals? If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from a search.

And as for Canadian Border Security, I am acquainted with someone who works in the field and let me tell you — they’ve heard it all and seen it all. That means that most of their searches are based on pretty reasonable gut feelings, born of years of watching thousands of liars and cheats posing as “good citizens.”

A free and open society relies upon responsible, ethical and lawful behavior by the majority of its citizens. Allowing absurdly stretched interpretations of the privacy act to protect those who subvert the law just leads to a deterioration of the complex social trust we rely upon for an ordered world.

Maybe we need to change the name of the acts to the Charter of Freedoms and Responsibilities; and the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act for Law-abiding Citizens.

Michelle Stirling-Anosh is a Ponoka freelance columnist.

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