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Toronto is gathering cellphone location data to find people congregating (financialpost.com)
103 points by colinprince 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

You can dislike the behavior all you want, and call it out as being immoral and stupid. You can fine people if they take risks that cause harm to others. But if you get in the way of the freedom to assemble and communicate like human beings without being straight up spied on that, to me, is crossing a very big red line.

Anyone who believes for a moment that the information they collect can't be deanonymized is deluding themselves. This is a precursor to some straight-up Orwellian evil.

Everybody loves to talk about government overreach, but if a total war (such as WW2) strikes Canada, the US, or any other freedom-loving country, they will round up millions of young people, give each of them a rifle, and tell them exactly what to do, where to sleep, what to eat, and a whole bunch of others, and eventually shove them into a transport ship and tell them to run into a trench and start shooting people. Penalty for desertion is death.

Somehow, all of this is constitutional, and these countries didn't descend into Orwellian hell after WW2. Context matters, and desperate times often require desperate measures.

I consider quoting 1984 as a very lazy form of argument, because it can be applied to everything the government does, regardless of context. It has no predictive power, and is no better than Godwin's law.

> Somehow, all of this is constitutional, and these countries didn't descend into Orwellian hell after WW2. Context matters, and desperate times often require desperate measures.

The US has been stripping rights from its citizens as its national pastime since WW2. We spy on our citizens, and the world. We took away the rights of minorities to own arms, then extended that out to the rest of the populace piece by piece. We've manufactured new laws that allow civil forfeiture, put innocent people into "plea out or risk your entire life" situations, and allow the complete disregard for the 4th amendment (see police dog signals, no-knock raids, etc). Oh, and we decided that we'd just imprison every person of a specific group during the war.

If the technology existed to make all of the above easier, it would have been used without question. It exists now.

> "Drafts exist"

Yes, war is another evil. The existence of one evil doesn't somehow make the other thing 'not evil' or even 'less evil'

> I consider quoting 1984 as a very lazy form of argument because it can be applied to everything the government does, regardless of context. It has no predictive power, and is no better than Godwin's law.

I'm not 'quoting' 1984 I'm using the term Orwellian because everyone understands that to mean 'over-reaching surveillance state that does bad things to people' which is exactly what is being discussed.

> The US has been stripping rights from its citizens as its national pastime since WW2.

Back in 1946, black people couldn't sit on any empty seat of the bus they damn liked. What are you talking about?

I gave half a dozen concrete examples of the ways American citizens have had their rights infringed upon. Cherrypicking an example of progress doesn't make any of those other things not true. Apparently that's not enough, so I'll add more.

We've invented laws that make it so felons can't vote, or defend themselves even after their sentence has been served. This affects innocent people who are wrongly convicted.

[0]We've intentionally flooded specific minority communities with crack cocaine and criminalized it as well as many other drugs in common use (despite federal studies suggesting we should not do so). --> The guy who brought that story to the press was found dead, shot in the head twice, and his death was ruled a suicide. This is the origin of a now often repeated joke/criticism about the CIA "Yeah he was shot in the back of the head twice. Worst case of suicide I've ever seen."

[1]We used the uptick in 'crime' to warrant selective enforcement, leading to more single fatherhood and weaker communities. This contributed to the poverty and cycle of crime these communities have experienced.

[2]Remember when I cited the 4th amendment being violated above? Yeah, that played a massive role in the above. Policies like "stop and frisk" were implemented in undeniably unconstitutional ways.

Clearly, minorities haven't had it super rosy lately, either. But the rights of everyone get stepped on repeatedly, not just minorities.

That's what I'm talking about




> I gave half a dozen concrete examples of the ways American citizens have had their rights infringed upon.

Yeah, but none of the examples you gave are new since ww2. At most, some of them have new names. Your examples don't speak to the question of whether people are more free, politically and otherwise, today in the US than they used to be. The answer to that question is plainly "yes," especially when you take into account the plight of minorities before civil rights movement. But even white people are more free today than we were before ww2.

Both the 'Stop and Frisk' policies and the CIA nonsense in the 80s that destroyed entire communities are after WW2.

> But even white people are more free today than we were before ww2.

This statement proves ignorance on the subject. I'll give some more concrete examples for you to look into.

1. Before 1954, there were many places in the US you could drive without a license. Free travel is a constitutional right, the institution of the driver's license restricts that right because there's no longer a way to travel without trespassing or by car.

2. Requiring drivers to carry insurance didn't gain momentum until 1957. Placing increased economic burden on people, restricting the ability to travel freely, and taking away people's ability to 'self-insure.'

Some states still have the concept of self-insurance, but it often requires more cash on hand than your car is worth.

3. You used to be able to walk, ride, swim, slide, or whatever other means of transport you deem desirable onto an empty plot of land, put down your possessions, and then proclaim that land to be yours. Oh, and without a property tax. Today, I'm not sure if any unclaimed land remains, but under the original rules most land would be claimable, which it no longer is.

Property taxes are actually a massive obstacle in solving homelessness. Even if you gave every homeless person a house, many couldn't afford to keep it and it would eventually end up seized. [0]The annual tax burden on the owner of a median value home value in New Jersey is $8,104 or $675 a month.

4. Many workers today need special licenses to work in minimum wage jobs. The argument is that they need to be licensed to be able to fry french fries or carry a platter. The license fees vary, but this places a new restriction on workers and businesses.

5. [1]You used to be able to order a fully-automatic mounted machine gun to your doorstep from a catalog. Somehow, people managed to not all kill each other. Today, you cannot purchase a fully-automatic weapon built after 1986 and even just owning the parts that would potentially allow you to create one is worthy of enormous jail time. Of course, anyone who has ever fired a fully-automatic weapon could tell you that these restrictions are woefully impractical when confronted with reality. And of course, these restrictions don't apply to government entities the way they do to you or I.

There is a massive list of firearms infringements. Virtually none of them are actually all that practical because building firearms is actually pretty simple business. Today you can build fully functional lower receivers for AKs AR15s and more in your garage. [2]And then there's the whole ghost gun movement.

Governments all around the world love any excuse to take the rights of their citizens for some 'totally justifiable' immediate need. Those rights are never returned, and the imbalance of power between people and institutions grows ever wider as more burdens or restrictions are placed on people. Counter-intuitively in some sense, these extra burdens and restrictions are great for big business because only big businesses can afford to properly comply with a massive network of interconnected laws and regulations.

People have to get really fed up with their situation and take action as a movement. Then, once things get changed for the better, those in or seeking power whittle away piece by piece to get themselves the most advantageous position possible.




And citizens had to fight tooth and nail, against institutions and against violence to achieve that. Trust me, US elites would have been happy to keep it that way.

This is a situation where the often nebulous "good of society" is straight up in conflict with personal freedom.

I'm in favor of opt-in for something like using location data (info the government doesn't normally have because it is private companies with the info, at least in the US), but it won't work at all for limiting pandemic response, because someone that doesn't opt-in can spread the virus.

So even if everyone else opts-in and allows location usage (perhaps time-limited or whatever) to fight this pandemic, it just takes one infected person to opt-out and destroy containment efforts. Just like South Korea's patient 31.

I can't think of a general solution for this, for a case where full cooperation is needed. If it is crossing a very big red line to interfere with freedom of assembly in the midst of a pandemic, then one tool I can think of is to charge/prosecute people that take risks that cause harm to others. Not just a fine, rich people could effectively ignore restrictions. I mean serious charges, attempted murder or assault for every other person they infect.

You want to unlimited freedom, then take unlimited personal responsibility for the harm you cause.

The other solutions are to split hairs somewhat. The 1st Amendment only prohibits Congress, so delegate to the States to forbid assembly in pandemics. But, not being an attorney, I don't know if that legal strategy flies.

Another is language lawyering, the 1st Amendment specifically mentions "the right of the people peaceably to assemble". Obvious workaround is to consider an infected person not peaceful, they are after all, attacking everybody around them with trillions of microscopic invaders. You can gather only if you can prove you aren't infected.

>I mean serious charges, attempted murder or assault for every other person they infect.

>You want to unlimited freedom, then take unlimited personal responsibility for the harm you cause.

How would you prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person was infected by the accused? Maybe it works fine in the early stages of an outbreak, but when you have thousands infected in a city, it isn't fair to charge whoever the police arrested with "infecting" every person that came within 6ft of him who wound up sick.

I think if you shot someone who happened to be impervious to bullets it would still be attempted murder. Or if you just shot your gun willy-nilly and happened to hit no one, that would at least be criminal negligence, right?

Traffic has been monitored based on cellphone data for years. What’s Orwellian is outlawing gatherings and most people feel that’s a reasonable tradeoff in a pandemic.

If you’re complaining about something I would suggest non removable cellphone batteries and the ability to record location and conversations while the phone seems to be off.

Most government traffic data is collected using Bluetooth scanning rather than GSM. That is not to say that the private carriers and big tech companies are not collecting data, then selling it to the government. These companies get around privacy laws through their EULAs that 99.9% of us never even read.

This is interesting. Can you suggest any source to investigate more about this?

Im assuming you want information regarding bluetooth traffic monitoring and not how big tech forces users to give up privacy.

Here is a paper I found that covers it, I worked in the traffic industry and attended several presentations at IMSA trade shows regarding this subject.


Actually that paper is about a newer technique that would require an app to be installed. The method I am aware of and currently in use, uses the 48 bit unique identification of phones with bluetooth discoverability turned on. When a car with one of these phones in it drives down the highway the address is timestamped at multiple sensor locations. From analysing these records, traffic flow can be observed. Eg. It took 2 minutes for a phone to be discovered by two different sensors(beacons) 2 miles apart, therefore traffic is flowing at 60mph.

Not everyone has a phone with bluetooth discovery turned on but there are enough to make a usefull observation. As a matter of fact, I currently live near a Highway and just scanning for available wifi hotspots, I am amazed at how many cars drive by with mobile hotspots active. (I pick up thier SSIDs)

This. At a time like this take all your privacy concerns and throw them out the window. Id rather be healthy and spied on than in a woefully unprepared Toronto hospital. This city and province are about to take a beating. My mom works at a hospital downtown and she says they have no idea what they are doing and no plan for the influx of cases whatsoever.

On top of that, the general public are about as smart as a truck tire so you can't rely on any cultural responsibility from your fellow citizen. Just the other day a crowd lined up down the block in front of a video game store to grab a copy of a newly released game which was available to download.

>At a time like this take all your privacy concerns and throw them out the window.


Once "a time like this" is over, you're not getting your privacy back.

Exactly right! It amazes me how close to our current reality the movie "V for Vendetta"'s reality was.

Okay, now imagine that in a decade or so, we stare down a new virus which is far more threatening than COVID-19. One that will outright kill more people regardless of age.

It's either your personal freedoms or death. Choose one.

In a pandemic situation we can't afford to be choosy about our personal freedoms. We have to accept that our privacy concerns are limited, then be prepared to take them back when the situation is dealt with. You can regain your rights. You can't regain your life, or the lives of those that were killed by your negligence.

From what I've seen with COVID-19, a virus like you describe will mean we're screwed no matter what.

You and I don't value privacy the same way. That's OK, we're allowed to have differing opinions.

Two countries have contained COVID-19 despite a significant outbreak. I suspect a more deadly version would have been contained sooner with people more willing to maintain quarantine.

Benjamin Franklin: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

> Just the other day a crowd lined up down the block in front of a video game store to grab a copy of a newly released game which was available to download and cripple their net for the duration of the download.

Just to play devil's advocate there are plenty of people who rely on their local game store (I used to fall within one of these).

We still live in a world of data caps and or slow download speeds. I know a few people who live "In the sticks" who rely on satellite for their internet connection. Not only are these connections limited they are often slow. Downloading a game can seriously eat into their allowance.

Some people do not have the local storage to store many games on their device and may prefer having the main chunk of the game on physical media.

There are people who have no internet connection at home and rely on public connections at their schools, libraries, coffee shops, etc to get on line as they need too.

There are people who factor in owning the physical media into their purchase by having the option to sell that copy later down the road when they are no longer playing it (A $60 game may seem an easier purchase if they can sell that game for $20 later down the road).

There are people who do not have the latest gen gaming system who rely on used games to get their gaming. One of my family members still have a Wii for their kids to play on because the games for it are dirt cheap, it has plentiful titles for their age and the kids of an age where they not demanding the latest and greatest games.

There are people for which cash is still king to them. Who get paid in cash and shop in cash. For these people purchasing games online (even physical games) requires a trip to a bank or to a supermarket to top up their amazon gift card to be able to purchase online.

You have kids who have done yardwork, odd jobs and have saved up over the past few months to purchase the game. You have people who have been visiting their local store to pay in advance for a game using their layaway programs.

To these people and many more even though a title was available to download to you and I may the ability to download the game is still be outside the reach to them.

I'm not going to say that everyone in the queue you saw fall into any one of the things I have said. I'm sure there are people out there who could of purchased the game online who chose to visit a physical store. All I'm going to ask is that when you see such things that you take a step back and remember that not everyone is in such a fortunate position as you and I and do we want to live in a world where those less fortunate than us can not have access to such things. Just try and remember that someone in that queue has probably been saving their cash for the past 6 months to purchase their child that game.

TL;DR: Not everyone in that queue were monsters.

EDIT: I fucked up an edit and can not re-edit. the quote is supposed to be.

> Just the other day a crowd lined up down the block in front of a video game store to grab a copy of a newly released game which was available to download

I was trying to update the satellite internet part of my comment to say that downloading a large game can cripple their connection for the duration of the game download. I blame my cat (Nope. my bad :-p)

For me, from a government system perspective, it depends wholly on whether or not a state of emergency has been declared. There are things that governments can do that they normally should not do. However, there are things that a government really should do in certain emergencies. Tracking individuals during a pandemic is one of those things. Curtailing the freedom to assemble is another one of those things. It should take an act of parliament (or the equivalent) and it should be temporary (with possible extensions).

Of course, the ironic this is that in 1984, "We have always been at war with Eurasia". That is the thing that legitimises the draconian measures. This is what Orwell warns about. However, I think it is important to understand that there is a big difference between creating an excuse for extrordinary measures and actually dealing with an emergency. It is critically important that we allow the latter while resisting the former. The difficulty is that this kind of action requires a nuanced response and large numbers of people put together often have difficulty with nuance.

P.S. I'm talking in general and not commenting directly on the fine article.

> This is a precursor to some straight-up Orwellian evil.

Not sure how someone who cares about this stuff isn't already aware by now (judging from the surprised tone of your post), but Canada has been investigating, harassing, and interrogating people for some time now, for doing things like writing books that criticize Trudeau. Look into Ezra Levant.

I live in Canada. I am quite familiar with Ezra Levant. I have no idea what you are talking about. Please educate me.

Everything I have read about or by Ezra Levant has solidified the idea that he is yet another alt-right media personality wannabe who LARPs as a journalist and sues anyone who disagrees with him. I don't respect him, and I have a hard time taking anything he says seriously.

> I have a hard time taking anything he says seriously

He acknowledged that this would be the case if he simply reported on it, which is why he brought a hidden camera to the interrogation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V__GmSk24qw

My experiences with liberals while living on the west coast (in the US) was that the general idea of warning a person against somebody else was that people tend to disregard such warnings, and they prefer to see first hand how a person is before dealing with them (even in the extreme case of someone being a known rapist). Is that different in Canada, or do mainstream talking heads on TV take precedence over that convention?

> Everything I have read about or by Ezra Levant has solidified the idea that he is yet another alt-right media personality wannabe who LARPs as a journalist and sues anyone who disagrees with him.

Are you saying that this makes it okay? That's the sentiment the government seems to be relying on in this case, and if that's what you believe, then you're part of the problem.

> Are you saying that this makes it okay?

I am not saying it makes it OK. I am saying he is the boy who has cried wolf so so many times I will not believe anything he says ever anymore. The noise to signal ratio is off the charts. I am not saying everything he says is a lie or framed to be misleading. But I am saying honest truth is a rarity in his works. Much like the actual boy who cried wolf, he says the honest truth in extremely rare occasions. But for the sake of my own sanity, I (and I am sure many other Canadians) have stopped listening to anything he has to say.

I don't count a framed and edited video from Ezra Levant as evidence. If you could point me to an actual news site, preferably something well-regarded like Globe and Mail not partisan like Star and National Post, and certainly not tabloids like Sun, then I would take a look at it. And when I say news, I mean news, not opinion or anything else. Otherwise, I am not going to waste 30 minutes of my life listening to a video by liar-supreme.

> The noise to signal ratio is off the charts.

> I don't count a framed and edited video from Ezra Levant as evidence. If you could point me to an actual news site,

> Otherwise, I am not going to waste 30 minutes of my life listening to a video by liar-supreme.

Then you shouldn't weigh in on the subject, frankly. That includes claiming that it was framed and edited before even watching it. If you're giving opinions on things that you haven't even seen, then you're the one contributing to the noise to signal ratio, and that's an undisputable fact.

I opened the video. Saw that it is edited (It does not show the entire meeting from the beginning to the end unedited. He puts clips of himself in the middle. He does his signature "ask for donations" thing. Etc). Given literally the entirety of his work history, I know it is going to be misleading if not an outright lie. So I spent 1 minute realizing it won't be worth my 30 minutes and closed the tab.

And if you are going to argue that this is not enough to refuse to believe the video and I should present more concrete evidence, I will refer you to the bullshit asymmetry principle:


Precisely no one, without any exceptions, has ever been investigated, harassed and interrogated by "Canada" (presumably you meant the government) for doing things like writing books that criticize Trudeau. This is pure fantasy. Ezra Levant is an alt-right troll who even gets away with most of his alt-right trolling without well-deserved libel lawsuits.

I watched this whole thing. How much of it have you watched and what is your evidence that it was faked? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V__GmSk24qw

By the way, it's laughable to suggest that this is somehow a fantasy, implying that this is what someone wants to be true. In what world is that okay?

Isn't it how the world runs since maybe a decade now? Google and Facebook, American companies, know pretty much everything about everyone. It has been revealed that these companies are being tapped by three-letter agencies and it was revealed that rough employees leaked data about their users to other governments. Private data has been sold and stolen too.

Maybe, the way to go is not as simple as protesting against openly using this data for a fight on a pandemic.

I don't advocate that it should be the way it is now, I simply don't like pretending that something is happening NOW. It has happened long time ago.

There's already a way to break up groups of people and send them home. College towns have known how to do this for decades: Send one or two officers over and break up the party. We don't need high-tech mass surveillance for this.

We don't see this happening yet in the US or Candada because their governments want to look like they're doing something, holding news conferences and nicely asking people to pretty please stay home, but the governments don't want to actually do anything (enforcement).

I keep reading people talking about "freedom of assembly" and "freedom of movement" in the context of covid quarantines. Freedom of assembly isn't about you meeting your friends for a beer at the park, and freedom of movement isn't about being able to leave your house and go to the pub.

Freedom of assembly is about your right to assemble with other people protest publicly. None of these "freedom of x" are absolute.

Not quite.

Freedom of assembly is not about your right to protest, it's origin is more or less your right to assemble and discuss whatever, especially discussing creating a movement to overthrow Dear Leader.

But it definitely extends to 'going to the pub' as well!

This freedom, however, can be constitutionally curtailed if necessary.

So it can get pretty fuzzy.

> Freedom of assembly is about your right to assemble with other people protest publicly. None of these "freedom of x" are absolute.

I'm not sure I follow. The whole point of the bill of rights is to specify things the government is specifically not allowed to touch. It was so important they literally made it the first thing on the list. These rights are described as inalienable by the founding fathers.


in·al·ien·a·ble /inˈālēənəb(ə)l/

"unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor."


inalienable is a synonym for absolute, sacrosanct, nonnegotiable, and unassailable.

By design, these freedoms are intended to be absolute. It's a serious tragedy that they have been whittled down to a shadow of their creators' intents.

You know countries other than the USA exist right?

> Anyone who believes for a moment that the information they collect can't be deanonymized is deluding themselves. This is a precursor to some straight-up Orwellian evil.

What are you visualizing? I get it we need to ensure our privacy and that in these times we lost civil liberties that never again reappear, but I'm wondering what you're thinking with "some straight-up Orwellian evil".

'Citizen, we see that you have been assembling and have fined you $1,000 for the greater good'

"But I need money for rent so I was just selling all my worldly possessions!"

(Nice Version) 'Citizen, you now owe us taxes.'

(Less Nice Version) 'Citizen, you engaged in criminal commerce and we now imprison you and take your money/property'

This may not be normal or have much precedent in Canada, but there is precedent for the entire above scenario in the US.

[0]Las Vegas has now implemented fines for any non-essential business that remains open. Basically a straight-up death sentence for most small businesses who are living paycheck to paycheck.

[1] And police seizures are a common, well-known, and certifiably evil practice in the US.

It's difficult for me to imagine how this power could not end up being abused by someone.




No, 1984 is a whole list of dysfunction. If you're saying that "if this happens then the book will happen", that's foolish and alarmist. This isn't going to lead directly to the two minute hate. I get that it possibly puts us on that path, but saying "if you invent fire you're going to end up at Fahrenheit 451" seems dishonest.

No one is forcing you to carry a cellphone, and a cellphone really isn’t an inalienable right. There’s a pretty easy solution to this problem if you don’t want to tracked. I’m not in support of what they are doing, but its a bit different than if it were being done with a government mandated biochip or ankle monitor rather than with a phone you voluntarily carry

You're being incredibly narrow with your definition of voluntary there. Are you seriously suggesting people giving up their cell phone is a reasonable price to pay for not being tracked by the government?

Edit: In 1776, Adam Smith argued that poverty is the inability to afford "not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without."

There's a difference between not being able to own a smartphone (because you can't afford one) and not carrying one because you left it at home.

There’s a pretty easy solution to this problem if you don’t want to tracked.

How easy that is will vary a lot from one person to the next and people who actually, seriously think it's easy are probably fairly privileged, even if they aren't actually wealthy.

This will exclude a lot of "working stiff"/office drone types who do get told they must be reachable, etc. Some are issued work phones or Blackberries.

I've actually arranged to be free of such impositions. Minor downside: I've been dirt poor for a lot of years.

Withdrawing from routine and normal social expectations and also having money and comforts and friends is very much "only the privileged few."

Given that a cellphone is necessary for many people to conduct their daily lives/business now[0] and that necessity is increasing over time, your argument quickly boils down to "no one is forcing you to take part in society". Sure, it may true, but what a terrible standard to set or defend.

[0] e.g. If I didn't carry a cell phone, I would be fired because I am expected to be reachable while away from the office. This is not a unique situation.

> If I didn't carry a cell phone, I would be fired because I am expected to be reachable while away from the office. This is not a unique situation.

I would argue that this is unique or at the very least, the minority of positions.

Only here to say that it's your choice to engage with an employer who makes that decision for you. In other words, find a new job.

That is just a single example from my personal situation and in my own circle of friends, I am not alone in that expectation.

We could look at another example, say the increasingly widespread use of mobile payments in China. How about people living in areas without other major services who need to keep in touch with family/friends/emergency services?

Regardless of the other situations, you're also making the assumption that I and others can just immediately find other employment. With the current massive number of layoffs, alternative employment prospects are dropping for a hell of a lot of people. So if this is the only job I can get right now, is it reasonable still to say that I can 'easily' give up my cell phone, for the low low price of not having enough money for rent/mortgage and food?

> Regardless of the other situations, you're also making the assumption that I and others can just immediately find other employment.

Losing your job because you're "off the grid" is always terrible. This is not an excuse just because now there is more serious ramifications. Perhaps it's just now extra terrible.

This is not a unique position. Many people are on call many require 24 hour availability. Police, doctors, office workers, ceos, techs, sales, real estate, etc all makeup a huge list. Not to mention family needs like parenting, or being a safety contact.

Cellphones are as necessary as a phone back in the day. You might be able to get away with not having a phone but things like finding work become extremely difficult.

> I am expected to be reachable while away from the office

Are you though? Do people not have the right to set boundaries anymore?

I should have said '...during office hours'. I see now that it makes it sound like that's the case even when I'm not working. My mistake.

Of course you could subvert the surveillance (by mot carrying a phone, credit card or communication device) but people are supposed to enjoy privacy rights by default not by subverting the government. Btw now the cash payments are banned in many places so how are you supposed to avoid being tracked and enjoy your privacy rights?

> There’s a pretty easy solution to this problem if you don’t want to tracked.

- That's assuming enough people know and care about it. You are tracked by the sensors carried by others too. And even if you are not, you live in the society built around the collected data anyway. It affects you.

- it's a twisted point of view. I should be able to enjoy the benefit of technology without having the threat of my own fellow human using it against me. This is bullying.

I would argue that in normal conditions, the government tracking your phone is absolutely a problem, constitutionally, and that you absolutely have a 'right not to be tracked'.

The issue is the coronavirus which adds another dimension of 'public good'.

I doubt the information is really anonymized in the first place. Making it really anonymous requires will, skill, incentive, hierarchical validation and resources. Not doing it on the other hand, is the path of least resistance. Plus the last 2 decades have proven you can not only get away with it, but people calling you on it have a high chance of paying the price for it.

I’m concerned this isn’t being done through the proper legal channels. The emergency powers act would allow the suspension of civil liberties and permit this.

However short of that a mayor shouldn’t have this power.

Is the issue here that someone has the ability to do this? You know People give up information willingly to Facebook right? And Cell service companies have the ability to do this for likely decades. At the very least they've known which tower you connect to.

tbh, I doubt the Government, in this situation, cares who you are. The issue is that groups will spread disease, keep the economy slow and overburden the healthcare system. They don't need your name! They're probably going to the cell service providers and saying 'yo, give me the lat long of group of 10 or more clustered in a 6 meter radius'. Maybe they're asking for names but it's not like they need them.

I could care less about your right to 'congregate' if you are putting my life at risk by doing so.

The reason this is not 'Orwellian' as you suggest, is because there's a very real and legit threat right now.

For god's sake, we're confined to our homes - that alone should be shocking enough.

If the Ontario Gov. is watching people 'congregate' during regular times, for whatever reason, then this is bad.

If they are using said powers to try to extend government reach so they can do nasty things after the threat ha passed, then this is bad.

But I doubt both.

The action is in the range of proportional and responsible, though I doubt it's having any effect.

The next step is that they will require you to have a tracker app on your phone - or an ankle bracelet - merely because you've identified as having COVID-19. Again - scary but legit and proportional, given the situation.

It's in these times we come pretty face to face with the results of individual actions with the community.

Instead of thinking in classical liberal terms, or even staunch collectivism, just consider what's the appropriate action for people and governments to take, within the context. It's not that hard to consider, and from this more communitarian perspective, our governments are mostly doing the right thing.

I am Canadian, and I considered myself an advocate of privacy up until COVID-19 made me realize I'd pretty much give up all my civil liberties if it meant my immunocompromised parents were less likely to fall ill and potentially die as a consequence. Trudeau can enact marshal law for all I care, I just don't want my folks to die.

I think you have to accept that your parents are going to die one day, whether we contain COVID-19 or not. But you and your (future?) kids are going to have to live with the political consequences of this crisis for many years to come.

The other side of that argument being that people in the future can always fight for their rights, whereas we can never get back lost time with our loved ones.

Such a selfish argument

You're absolutely right. Thankfully, in reality, I don't think the measures taken will be as strong as dismantling our civil liberties. However, if the dichotomy was either our civil rights at large (expand this to the economy, whatever you want) or the lives of the sick and elderly, I'd opt for saving human lives every time. I even think there is a Trek episode about this. Not very utilitarian of me I realize, but it's a trade off I'd make without hesitation.

All of your civil liberties? Really? That seems to be a very high price to pay given we all die someday.

I'd rather live in a world of risks than one without liberty.

My mother is older and has chronic health issues. We both rather risk it and have choice in how we live our lives while we are still here.

"Given a choice between preventing the spread of disease and avoiding mass casualties that are bound to result, and living our lives in ignorance, we chose ignorance."

You're like someone who's complaining their rights are being trampled because the fire department is yelling at you to leave a burning building.

Not even close.

This is a preventable catastrophe, but prevention requires extraordinary measures.

If we want to handle this crisis, let's not create a yet larger crisis in the process. I'm not ready to go weapons-grade nuclear on civil liberties.

Don't worry, your parents will live forever. Trudeu will take care of that. Don't mind the life they/we gonna live. More is better, right? Imagine if the government could put us in some little cages, feed us and keep us away from any harm we or others could inflict upon us. Everything would be safe and we would enjoy a long life! Our purpose in life is to live as long as we can. No brainer!

I'm uncertain what motivates you, but my family is my utmost priority (i.e., above anything else, including politics).

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety"

In this context is easy to understand that one can’t enjoy neither of those rights when dead. In a perfect world everyone would relate to that fact, respect the quarantine for a dozen weeks, and get back to work rebuilding everything as quickly as possible. Some people can’t reason and that’s why we all can’t have nice things.

I'm sure you are exaggerating somewhat. Like, you probably wouldn't permanently give up your freedom of movement or the vote to stave off your parents' deaths two days or whatever. There are tradeoffs to be made here, and a temporary reduction in privacy might be worth it for the lives that could be saved. I personally think so. Probably most of the population agrees. The people on this site skew privacy-oriented, so you'll probably get less agreement here than in the population writ large.

I get your point. But does that mean others should give up their civil liberties? Or others should be locked up like prisoners?

Nobody has a right to live forever!

> I'd pretty much give up all my civil liberties

Okay, but you have not right to do the same to other people's civil liberties.

Thanks for being honest. Many here are in denial or are at best just fair weather liberals.

This being said, we are at the beginning of this, so it's more likely to be a temporary state and that things will return to normal than we enter a state of always being at war against covid19.

But this event will make many people wonder about what people will do if you convince them enough. The thing doesn't need to be true or not, just that people only need to believe you to do horrible things. That is the warning of history.

>totally anonymous cellphone location information

that's a bold claim



and so on and so forth, these data sets are hard to truly anonymize

Only because they capture a lot of data and keep the row level information.

If you just grabbed clustered coordinates without any device information there wouldn't be enough data to be able to reconstruct identity information.

There's a lot of ways it can go wrong though:

- If they provide a unique ID with each coordinate. Now you can deanonymize by correlation

- If they provide a coordinate for every used in the system. Now you know where everyone is

- From the above, if the data is presented in frequent intervals, you can correlate coordinates with last know coordinates and start drawing paths

I'd be comfortable if the request is "give us a coordinate for every area that has more than N users in it" for some large N. Filtering out apartment buildings shouldn't be too difficult.

> every useD in the system

Funny typo, or perhaps not? Reminds me of Stallman talking about Facebook and switching out "users" with "useds".

Imagine this happening under normal circumstances. Now that they did it, the threshold will be lower to do it again next time, when they see it fit.

The future will show, whether it will be appropriate, when they do it next time.

Yeah the obvious comparison to point to is that the US patriot act massively expanded the powers of the US intelligence agencies in response to 9/11, and now, despite the threat being nothing like what it used to be the intelligence services have just steadily pushed that power further and further.

People might accuse you of using a Slippery Slope fallacy, but in reality they're just establishing a precedent. And the justification will get weaker each time.

You are right, not water tight argumenting on my part. I wonder, whether slippery slope is OK, if the action in reality can be seen as a slippery slope that society is probably sliding down.

Using cell phone location data to track users isn't at all new in North America & Europe. Adtech companies have been doing since the 2000s.

Having worked at a digital signage company I can tell you that all digital out of home advertising companies use cell phone tower location data to calculate impressions (views) for their billboards. Note this isn't limited to digital outdoor ads, static (posters) ads also use the same location data to determine the amount of impressions they get.

This metric is usually required so that the Advertising companies can bill their customers.

It amazes me that so many HN commenters think this type of tracking is new. What you people should be concerned about are the adtech companies that have been doing this with little oversight for at least a decade.

Hehe, well, perhaps it's not really new, but the justification and doing it in broad daylight might be new. The attempt to get rid of the shadiness factor of such practice. Also perhaps not by the government or Canadian government.

I'd guess that most of HN knows, that this has been done before. Outrage or indignation does not require thinking, that something is a new practice.

I think part of the problem is that the hacker news community has to accept that we are in minority in terms of opinion on this. The general public is either okay with it or doesn't care. Anyone who has tried to explain this to a non-tech person knows what I mean.

How long do they get this information, and who has access to it?

The privacy culture in Canada is different from that of the US or Germany, with some major privacy players today having close law enforcement and intelligence community backgrounds.

For example, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Civil Liberties in the article also happens to be a former provincial attorney general responsible for some pretty hysterical anti-civil liberties regulations in regard to law enforcement discretion (automatic roadside vehicle seizure for speeding, "pit bull" ban), in addition to his ideological anti-firearms advocacy in a country with some of the strictest and most byzantine gun laws on the planet. The federal privacy commissioner is a former federal assistant deputy attorney general which arguably makes him a member of the intelligence community.

Regardless of your political leanings, it's hard to make the case that former prosecutors and intelligence community members make credible privacy advocates.

In Canada, there is a popular contempt for the notion of "freedom," in the American sense, as the concept implies there may be limits to bureaucratic remit and to the total sovereign power of the crown. Such freedom is a myth only the young or uneducated believe in. There are a few rights carved out of the total dominion of the crown, but those are exceptions. It's a very different culture here.

In terms of using cell tracking data to manage the pandemic, the case for what difference the data would makes needs to be clearer. Leveraging the crisis to get the data ("squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube") is standard bureaucracy playbook here, and everyone should be skeptical of it.

"Because crisis!" is not a reason or justification people should accept for anything, and we should push back on anyone who seems to be leveraging hysteria and who won't provide a sound and transparent rationale with clear limits.

As the article says, this isn't legal, and violates Provincial Privacy law.

These laws have been violated by DOOH companies for the past decade. Yet no one really talks about the private sector tracking people without consent.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22685912 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out-of-home_advertising

People talk about the private sector violating privacy all the time.

The gov't doing it is even worse since they have the power to put you in jail and take all your possessions if they want to. Private companies don't.

Similar / more invasive product being sold by NSO Group (yes, that NSO Group) to a dozen governments around the world:


It should be noted that the city came out and denied that this was actually happening or that they've received any data

[Paywalled] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-toronto-may...

Yeah Tory denied it on live TV as well.

Some things to be aware of are that Tory was the CEO of Rogers previously. Maybe he knew which data they have available and since it was a company owned by a family friend he could get whatever he wants.

Michael Bryant while allegeldy drunk rammed a bicycle off the road on purpose (self-defense) and killed the guy. His wife was in the car as well and they got separated a few months later. He was also the previous Attorney General in Ontario.

The logic.co first reported this afaik and now reporting details of the"walk back".

(What a strange term for admitting a lie.)

It feels like everyone here is treating it as an all or nothing thing. People are acting like if we allow the government to do this, then the next step surely can only be total state surveillance. Can't we come up with some reasonable balance where we can give up some privacy during extreme situations, but have strong safeguards in place to keep it emergency only?

If you allow a precedent to be set it can be very difficult to get the genie back in the bottle...

I am finding it very interesting to read the disparaging reaction to this measure by the Canadian government, and the reaction to a similar measure taken by the Israeli government.


They should have taken timely precautions instead of trying to go all out after they found out the cat was out of the bag. I find it apalling that they took forever to cancel Chinese/Iranian/Italian flights, but now it's time to disregard all civil liberties.

I do not have a cell phone; since some people do not have a cell phone (or may temporarily have loss of communication for whatever reason, including airplane mode, loss of battery power, leaving it at home, etc) it may not work. But what if someone has more than one cell phone?

Obscene, the upsides of this are nothing compared to it's impact on freedom and in normalizing such behavior.

I have trouble comprehending how governements (and people) think so little of individual freedom that as soon as a crisis hits their first instinct is giving it all up

> QA: What, as an ordinary citizen now, frightens you most, would you wish, most could happen, to stop the panic at least.

> YH: I think the worse thing is the disunity we see in the world, the lack of cooperation and coordination we see between different countries, and the lack of trust, both between countries, and also between the population and the government. ¶ This is basically the payday for what we've been seeing in the last few years, with the epidemic of fake news, and with the deterioration of international relations. ¶ If you compare this for example with the 2008 financial crisis — which is of course a crisis of a different kind, but there are similarities — in 2008 you had responsible adults in the world which took a leadership position, rallied the world behind them, and prevented the worst outcomes. But over the last four years basically we've seen a rapid deterioration of trust in the international system. The country which was the leader previously, both in the 2008 financial crisis and also in the last big epidemic, the Ebola epidemic in 2014 — and that country is the United States — now it is not taking any kind of leadership position. Actually since 2016, the current administration has made it very clear that the US has resigned its role as world leader, it made it very clear that the US has no longer any friends in the world, it has only interests. And even if now, the US — which is not doing so far — but even if it will try to assume a leadership position, nobody would follow a leader who's motto is “Me first.” ¶ So what really frightens me is the lack of leadership and cooperation, and what people should realize, is that the spread of the epidemic in any one country threatens the entire world because of the danger that if we don't contain this in time, the virus will evolve — that is maybe one of the worse problems with this kind of epidemic — is actually a rapid evolution of the virus. We saw it before with the 2014 Ebola epidemic. It actually started, the Ebola epidemic started, with one genetic mutation in one virus in one person in West Africa, which turned Ebola from a relatively rare disease into a raging epidemic, because this single mutation increased the contagiousness of the virus four times. ¶ Now this could be happening right now, somewhere in Iran, or in Italy, or in anywhere else, and wherever it happens, it endangers the entire world. ¶ Humanity needs to close ranks against the viruses.

Yuval Harari then goes on to describe the second thing that scares him the most: The rise of authoritarianism through governments taking advantage of peoples’ fear about the virus.


Jokes on them.

Rogers struggles to make/receive phone calls during peak hours for the past week.

As does Israel, as does Norway.

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