Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

© Dado Ruvic / Reuters/Reuters

Browsing your social media profile is not typical of what most of us would expect government ministries to be up to. But a mass of anecdotal evidence suggests that a variety of federal departments are visiting a lot of social media sites, and possibly gathering information on a lot of Canadians.

That's why Chantal Bernier, the interim privacy commissioner of Canada, was right to ask Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board – for lack of any more obvious addressee – to come up with "clear, mandatory guidance" on the government's use of what it may find on social media.

Though the board is looking into it, Mr. Clement professed to be "a bit skeptical" that there is a problem: "This is all publicly available information. People freely make that choice."

Story continues below advertisement

Do they? Do Canadians consciously accept that the Ministry of This-or-That will browse their Facebook page, or their LinkedIn profile? Does the Ministry upload its own smiling photo in return? Is it compiling databases of information? What is it using them for? When is that reasonable, and when unreasonable?

And the phrase "publicly available" is dubious, if there is no clear public purpose for gathering particular information. Most people would accept government delving into someone's online presence, if there is reason to believe that someone is, say, fraudulently collecting unemployment insurance payments, or is spying on the government on behalf of a foreign power, or perhaps even to supplement an income-tax audit.

The Privacy Act does get at some of these points, but the convoluted language of statutes isn't always good at articulating what really matters.

Ms. Bernier is right that there's a need for pointed, unambiguous instructions on when government should, and should not, delve into the social media profiles of Canadians. Even in public, privacy matters.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies