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The dangers of centralized digital ID: Why government has no business knowing so much about us

In Canada, governments and private corporations are working together to develop the same kind of technology now used in China.

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John Carpay Calgary AB
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In Nanjing, a man crosses the street while the pedestrian light is still red. Within seconds, a billboard-sized screen nearby displays his name, his face and an admonition to obey the traffic lights.

The Communist Chinese government surveillance cameras have captured the moment, secured an image of the man’s face, compared it to a central database of faces compiled over the years, identified the individual, and returned the information to the billboard-sized screen – all before the man reaches the other side of the road. He receives a text that notifies him of his offence and monetary fine. The government lowers his “social credit” score. As a warning to others, his face might also end up on the local television newscast alongside speeders, litterers and those with an untidy yard.

In Canada, governments and private corporations are working together to develop the same kind of technology now used in China. Digital (computerized) ID makes it possible for governments to watch, record and evaluate every Canadian’s every move. We already know, based on our experiences in the past 30 months, that many Canadians will support the violation of their Charter rights and freedoms if the government claims that tracking and surveillance will save lives from a scary virus. Governments will likely announce a new, scary virus this fall, along with new (revived) restrictions on our human rights and constitutional freedoms.

Once governments create a central database with information on every person, the state can punish or reward citizens for just about anything. For example, China’s compulsory National Health Code System assigns Chinese citizens green, yellow or red to signify Covid infection risk. Those with green status can move around freely; red means forced quarantine, immediately. The government requires the Chinese to submit information about their health status and other personal details, while at the same time harvesting online behavioural and location data. Automated code readers at the entrances to underground stations, offices, malls, apartment blocks, banks and even in taxis, severely restrict the movement of people whose code is not green. Some individuals suddenly find themselves coded red after having expressed the wrong opinions on China’s heavily monitored social media.

Canada adopted its own version of China’s social credit system in 2021, when those who chose not to be injected with the Covid vaccine (for which no long-term safety data exists) became second-class citizens who could not access restaurants, gyms, theatres, swimming pools, airplanes, trains, and (in some provinces) churches. This vicious and unscientific discrimination against an unpopular minority was made possible by digital (computerized and electronic) technology.

Canada’s federal and provincial governments already have many databases on citizens: health records; tax records; records about citizens’ criminal convictions and traffic violations, etc. As long as these different databases are separated from each other, and nobody has access to all of them, a citizen can still enjoy privacy and freedom. Conversely, if governments have access to personal information (medical, financial, travel, social, political views etc.), and if this information is in a centralized database, then the state can reward, punish and control Canadians.

Technology is not the problem, in and of itself. Rather, the problem is government access to extremely detailed, personal, confidential, and real-time information about Canadians’ personal affairs. If the government knows your geographical location, what you do, what you say on social media, where you bank, how you spend your money, and what you earn, own and possess, then government can easily take away your rights, freedoms and property. Consider what happened to Canadians who did not get the Covid shots. Their freedom to move, travel, associate, assemble, worship, and determine their own medical treatments became mere privileges, conferred by government only on those who behaved “correctly” by getting the Covid injections.  

The only way to stop governments from abusing information that they have about citizens is to ensure that governments don’t have this information in the first place. Neither Prime Minister Trudeau nor any provincial Premier has any business knowing where 38 million individual Canadian citizens happen to be at any given time; when and where we travel; what we buy; what we own; what we think; or what faith (if any) we practice.

This type of invasive surveillance is needed only for high-security prisons, and for a small number of convicted sex offenders, terrorists, violent criminals and murderers. For the rest of us, the government should be blissfully ignorant about our lives.

John Carpay, B.A., LL.B., is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).

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