Canadians who were recently surveyed about online privacy were split on whether they approved of governments reading their e-mail.
The poll, commissioned by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, asked if "it is acceptable or unacceptable for governments to monitor everyone's email and other online activities."
About 49 per cent of respondents said it was "completely unacceptable," about 47 per cent of those surveyed said it was "acceptable in some circumstances," and about four per cent said it was "completely acceptable."
When asked if government surveillance would be appropriate if it could prevent terrorist attacks, about 13 per cent said it would be completely acceptable, about 64 per cent said it would be acceptable in some circumstances, and 23 per cent said it would still be completely unacceptable.
The results suggest Canadians are surprisingly apathetic about their privacy, said Byron Holland, president of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, which manages the .ca domain name registry and works to develop policies "that support Canada's Internet community."
"I think it's fair to say that most of us here and many of us deeper in the Internet community were surprised by Canadians' willingness to give up privacy in the interests of safety," Holland said.
About 39 per cent of those polled indicated they believed they were already being monitored by the government in some way, while about 15 per cent didn't believe that to be true. About 46 per cent weren't sure either way.
Holland said he has no reason to believe Canadians are currently being spied on by government agencies online but added it's still important for citizens to have a conversation about their privacy expectations.
"It's certainly my understanding in the Canadian landscape that we're not doing anything like the Americans are doing," he said in reference to the U.S. National Security Agency's PRISM surveillance program, which was exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
"As a very interested citizen in the Internet ecosystem we're just trying to spur that discussion because Canadians currently have a very different regime than the U.S. does. But is that the regime that we want to have? We should be thinking about it."
The poll of 1,134 Canadians was conducted by Ipsos Reid between July 24 and 28.
The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
Other results from the poll:
- 63 per cent of respondents believed their Internet service provider and other companies were tracking their activities online
- 18 per cent believed their Internet activity was completely confidential
- 43 per cent assumed the government was tracking certain search terms
- 63 per cent believed the government was collecting information on the visitors of certain websites
- 40 per cent believed the government was saving Internet activity data to be reviewed in the future