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Drawn Off Topic: Musician Loreena McKennitt on privacy

Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

World musician Loreena McKennitt's latest CD is Troubadours on the Rhine.

What is your full name?

Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt.

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And what are your home address, social insurance number, credit card number and PIN?

Well, you'll be working a long time to get them, won't you?

Are you a private person?

I am a person who understands and respects my privacy. There are aspects of my life that are best served kept private and there are others that I feel free and comfortable to share with others.

How do you reconcile celebrity with that level of comfort over privacy?

The word "celebrity" has successfully commodified many human beings to the degree where it has stripped them of some of their human rights. It has desensitized the rest of the population.

Do you feel more vulnerable to invasion of privacy in the digital age?

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I don't think we should be talking just about myself. You are hearing more and more people saying, in situations of tragedy and trauma, that they want their privacy and their zone of grief respected. What has happened is the media – now connection technology [organizations that] are primarily privately owned and commercially driven – have grown an insatiable appetite for more personal and private details.

Is privacy being redefined?

I don't think redefined. I think that perhaps it is being rediscovered. You get into the cult of celebrity the media have constructed for their own commercial gain and feeds off – I would say, to a degree that is cruel. Most people in it don't understand how it is cruel and destructive.

Every man and his dog are on Facebook. Young people, especially, seem willing to sacrifice their privacy to the notion that an immense number of "friends" care and want to hear the minutiae of what they say, do or think.

Maybe if they called the people you encounter through this kind of connection technology some word other than "friend," it wouldn't be so warm and fuzzy.

Nosy Parkers?

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Yeah! How the whole experience of Facebook has been constructed and famed is quite clever. People who have really had true friends, who have been there through thick and thin, know the merit of the word "friend."

How can you expect young people to understand bigger and sometimes more complex life lessons or concepts? When you are young, you experience and learn about the layers of life and the world, including the place that privacy plays in your life. What is quite sinister about [Facebook] is the way they have such blatant disregard for it. It is an egregious situation where young people are led over a cliff in terms of all kinds of shallow and destructive experiences.

The Ontario Court of Appeal recently found a hacker uncovering personal details and posting them online for spite guilty of "intrusion upon seclusion." Is it a good thing that courts are redefining privacy in the 21st century?

I think it is immensely good. What's tricky is the commercial pressure these privately owned connection technology companies are putting on our society. There is copyright, there is fraud, there is security. Legislators are simply not able to keep up. [Previously] there was not the capacity to disseminate infringements so widely and so quickly. These two dimensions alone make any egregious event that much more significant. Sadly, it is often in a detrimental way.

When you get into a discussion of what is in the public interest and what is interesting to the public is a very critical point and there needs to be a consensus on that.

The federal government is proposing amendments to the Criminal Code allowing law-enforcement authorities increased powers to monitor the digital communications of private citizens without warrant. Ostensibly, these powers against privacy are to be used in combating child pornographers. If one has nothing to hide, should they be concerned?

I don't agree with that. There has to be a justification for invasion of privacy and that justification should be a formalized process that is run before people who are trained and equipped to adjudicate those kinds of decisions. I wouldn't just say that anybody, the police or the government, can just waltz into your life. Not just for a fishing expedition.

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