By Ann Cavoukian
Mine is a story of an Armenian girl born in Cairo, Egypt who, because of freedom, was able to achieve her dreams. My grandparents were enslaved during the Armenian genocide but escaped the morning they were to be killed because of my grandfather’s amazing artistic ability (which is another story, for another time!). When the British pulled out of Egypt and Abdul Nassar took over, decimating all freedom, my parents, along with their three children and my two grandmothers, had to escape again, leaving behind all of their material possessions that could not fit into 8 suitcases. We came to Canada because it was the land of the free. But although it was the land of the free, it was not the land of the easy.
During my early school years, I was branded as a strange looking, middle-eastern girl who ate feta cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch. But despite not being wealthy or not being given a head start because of my diversity (it didn’t work in your favor back then), through hard work, I was able to choose my goals and achieve them, because I was fortunate enough to live in Canada – to live in freedom. I attended the University of Toronto where I earned my Ph.D. in Psychology, and within the environment of freedom that Canada gave me at that time, I worked my way to becoming the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario for three terms, where I created Privacy by Design.
My point in relating this story is that I did not require a high social credit score, or a head start; like everyone in my generation, I just required freedom. My gender and ethnicity may have made it more difficult, but in hindsight, I am thankful because those hardships that I experienced steeled my character – I never looked at myself as a victim (which helped me enormously when I had to later deal with a lot of medical difficulty, followed by multiple neurosurgeries). But because of my background and ancestral history, freedom is in my blood. And my mantra is: construct a society of freedom and we, the people, will sort out all the rest.
Lately, I have been frustrated by the relentless creeping surveillance in society and the concomitant diminution of our freedom and privacy. Privacy by Design has had a positive effect with respect to corporations, but little within Canadian or U.S. governments and, now with the infrastructure laid for vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, I believe that governments, in concert with their corporate partners, are the greatest threat to our freedom and privacy. During my three terms as Information and Privacy Commissioner, I had professional and social dealings with all three political parties in Ontario. Without exception, when they were in opposition, they sang the virtues of freedom and privacy; but when they acquired power, they switched their tune to zero-sum utility and control, with privacy and freedom relegated to the backburner. And the perplexing part was that the leaders were all kind, good people, even when they acquired power – but they wanted to maintain control by staying in power! And as we have witnessed, the desire to maintain and acquire more power, causes faceless bureaucrats to enact nasty policies, ironically, all in the name of the the public good. The hypocrisy cannot be over-stated.
Recently, like many, I have been self-isolating because of COVID-19, and have had the opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate my premises as to what constitutes a free society, in essence to question what freedom means. I have often said that privacy forms the foundation of our freedom and prosperity. I now realize that there is more: Freedom requires privacy and a social structure, which promotes non-aggression, which in turn requires the freedom to implement the necessary competitive structures to accomplish this. No entity, be it an individual or an organization, should be granted a monopoly on the use of coercion to accomplish its “goals.” Coercion is aggression, whereas self-defense is the antithesis of aggression. Our current form of democracy has failed us and served us into the hands of the autocrats.
This conclusion may come as a shock to those of you who know me. But I have given it much thought and I sincerely hope that it starts the conversation as to what truly is the best political structure underlying true freedom for all of us, not just the chosen few — what we have now is far from satisfactory, and I am personally troubled by the direction that our society is taking.
To those of you who truly value freedom, please stand up, be heard and resist the immoral policies and mandates that deny you the opportunity to control what you deem best for your own life. Communicate your ideas and do not allow the so-called elites to put words in your mouth. Some think that the current system is repairable, while other believe that it must be replaced. Whatever it is, let us be creative and ensure that a free and open dialogue moves us forward peacefully.
Dr. Ann Cavoukian is a member of our Board of Directors for the Probe Foundation. Dr. Cavoukian is the Executive Director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University. Recognized as one of the leading privacy experts in the world, Dr. Cavoukian is an avowed believer in the role that technology can play in protecting privacy. Her ground-breaking 1995 paper, Privacy-Enhancing Technologies: The Path to Anonymity, laid the foundation for her magnum opus, Privacy by Design (PbD) – which is now recognized as the world’s gold standard in privacy protection. Dr. Cavoukian is well known for her former role as Ontario’s longest serving Information and Privacy Commissioner.