Editor's column: Privacy laws can’t keep up

A story that caught my eye this week was one about YVR refusing to allow OpenMedia, a Vancouver-based internet privacy group, to advertise at Canada Line’s YVR station (page 9).

The proposed ad states “Your phone is not safe at the border; know your privacy rights.” It then directs people to OpenMedia’s website, borderprivacy.ca, which outlines privacy rights regarding searches at the border and how to submit a complaint if you feel those rights were violated.

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The sticking point for YVR is not that the website informs people about their rights, but that it also encourages people to sign a petition that challenges current laws regarding border searches as they pertain to smart phones and other devices.

OpenMedia counters that if we’re serious about protecting people’s privacy, the petition is essential because the laws, as they currently stand, simply can’t do the job.

 “The fact is the laws that govern these kind of searches are just so out of date. They haven’t been meaningfully changed to reflect how much information we carry on our phones now,” explained Victoria Henry, who has led this particular OpenMedia campaign.

However, for YVR, to advocate change is to venture into the realm of politics and YVR “aims to be non-political.”

The first thing that strikes me about this is simply the fact someone appears to be taking responsibility for a Canada Line ad. We’ve done numerous stories in the past about platform ads that have riled riders — mainly because they’ve been in Chinese only. However, when we’ve contacted TransLink, they’ve tended to wash their hands of responsibility. As long as the advertiser can afford it and the ad doesn’t promote something illegal, it’s good to go.

 Recently, TransLink has put a disclaimer at the bottom of its vape ads, saying it doesn’t necessarily endorse the product. Still, it’s happy to post the ad.

Regardless, YVR is a different story. There, the airport authority, a federal entity can, and obviously does, override TransLink policies.

 I understand YVR doesn’t want to create undue stress for travellers with a somewhat menacing ad that warns people they may have their rights violated. However, the reality is they may. Given how quickly technology is developing, it’s not surprising our laws our outdated.

Granted, it’s our responsibility to educate ourselves and take measures to secure our data, but these challenges go beyond individual behaviours. Perhaps the best thing to come out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where Facebook was found to have violated the privacy of millions of its users, is a robust discussion about privacy regulations, as well as a sobering realization of how few we have.

YVR may not want to appear political but the politics is already happening. Our privacy laws are struggling to keep up, that’s no secret and OpenMedia aren’t the only ones pointing that out. I’m not saying everyone should sign this petition, but I am saying we need to get informed and participate in the debate about privacy in our digital age if we don’t want to see the rights we take for granted slip away.

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