The Canadian journalism community has been rocked in the past week by revelations that Montreal police have been eavesdropping on the phone conversations of various crime reporters for several years as part of their investigations into alleged criminal activities related to the journalists’ sources.
It’s an attack on freedom of the press, many are saying — including whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has weighed in on the issue from his hideout in Russia. (See Montreal Gazette report for more details about Snowden’s thoughts on the matter.) The government of Quebec is launching a commission of inquiry into the matter, but the Montreal police are unapologetic so far. After all, judges approved the spying by signing the necessary warrants. They must have considered the police methods to be necessary in the attempt to catch suspected villains.
The biggest surprise to me about all of this is the apparent surprise and naiveté of the journalism community. Many seem genuinely shocked that police have been spying on them.
A question for my readers: Does the news surprise any of you?
Reality check: No form of communication today is secure from eavesdroppers. And police and intelligence officials will do what it takes to foil terrorists and catch various criminals. No one is exempt from investigation if authorities deem it necessary. And it really doesn’t matter what Quebec’s commission of inquiry comes up with and what laws are passed to restrict police, the spying will continue as long as there are people doing bad things in this world.
Reality check No. 2: Spying is easy. It’s child’s play. We live in an age when 10-year-old hackers can tap into your computers and spy on you. So you can well imagine what organizations like the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) and its counterparts in other countries are doing. They exist to spy and, more important, to protect the general population from bad people. You have no idea of how they have protected you, because they don’t broadcast it. But even with all their work behind the scenes, criminals are finding ways to rip you off online.
To fellow journalists, I say, yes, it is terrible that we don’t have the freedom of the press that we feel we should have. But you know that complete freedom of the press is a myth. We only have as much freedom as media owners — and their various political and business cronies — allow us to have. And no matter how much we squawk about state surveillance, it will continue and increase. That is the world we live in. How could any of us have not known this before? Did anyone actually believe journalists were exempt from being spied on when virtually everyone else is open to being spied on as intelligence officials see fit?
And here’s the rub: You can be sure that some of the bad guys are spying on us, too. Very sure . . . And, if I were a crime reporter, I would be more concerned about the Mob spying on me than I would be if the cops were spying on me.
Photo: Spy silhouette. (Setreset, Wikimedia Commons)