Edward Snowden, former CIA contractor and an outspoken advocate for privacy, spoke to an enthusiastic group of students at the McGill University, earlier this month, to discuss the controversial events regarding the Montreal police force and its unjustifiable surveillance of journalists.
The Montreal police found itself in the midst of international controversy after it was revealed that they were secretly spying and monitoring the mobile phones of at least seven journalists, including respected columnist for Canada’s oldest and largest newspaper La Presse, Patrick Lagacé.
La Presse stated that the police obtained 24 surveillance warrants to listen to Lagacé’s calls, read his personal messages and track his GPS, in order to precisely locate his whereabouts.
“I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn’t dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists – and hence the public – against this type of police intrusion.”
In light of the surveillance of Lagacé and the six other prominent Canadian journalists, Snowden stated that intelligence agencies and authorities can’t be trusted to operate fairly until criminal sanctions are imposed for illegal surveillance of people.
He further emphasized that virtually everyone is being monitored by national intelligence agencies, authorities and law enforcement organisations without explicit purposes.
“The story about Montreal police spying on a journalist for the reason of uncovering sources is a radical attack on the free press. It unsettles me. It’s a threat to the traditional model of our democracy.”
He also noted that intelligence agencies can operate mass surveillance on millions of people with reduced expenses and costs, which allows them to track and monitor devices and collect personal information from any individual without having to deal with increasing expenditures.
Despite the criticisms, Montreal Police Chief Philippe Pichet refused to take responsibility of the situation.
“We are very aware of the importance of freedom of the press,” said Pichet. “But on the other hand, there were criminal allegations against a police officer … and we have a job to do.”