The Toronto Star
Friday, November 22, 1996
page A11

New technologoes threaten privacy, top judge warns

Internet's `excesses and abuses' cited

by Stephen Bindman and Jim Bronskill,

OTTAWA -- A top judge is warning that new computer technologies such as the Internet threaten the privacy of Canadians and existing laws may not be able to do much about it.

Mr. Justice John Sopinka of the Supreme Court of Canada said yesterday developments in cyberspace will force lawmakers to re-examine traditional legal rules in order to balance freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

"The information age has brought us a wonderful instrument which enables us to vastly expand our knowledge and comprehension of the world", the judge said in a speech at Queen's University in Kingston. A copy of his remarks was released by his Ottawa office.

"It is not, however, an unmitigated blessing. There are excesses and abuses. Society is struggling and will continue to struggle to attempt to curb the excesses and abuses."

Sopinka said the Internet has become a haven for hate messages, pornography, and defamatory statements that can be posted with virtual anonymity.

But he predicted only partial success will be achieved in eliminating the abuses and some members of society will be left without legal redress.

"While this is to be regretted, it is the price we pay for the right to enjoy freedom of speech and the price we pay for the many benefits that we derive and will continue to derive from this powerful new medium."

The Supreme Court justice said the ease with which personal information can now be collected "makes it possible for Big Brother to be watching us."

Among the dangers:

Since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms only applies to state action, it may not be used to challenge many of these invasions by private individuals, Sopinka warned.

Another warning was sounded by privacy commissioner Bruce Phillips, who told a Commons committee the Internet allows ready access to personal information about millions of people.

One service, he said, enables users to track down some 160 million people in the U.S. and find out their address, phone number, names of household members, dates of birth, and the listing of up to 10 neighbours.

Copyright © 1996 by Southam News. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.