Student Life

Test our knowledge, not the bounds of privacy ethics

Taking an exam shouldn’t mean giving up your privacy

Concordia University’s OnLine Exam (COLE) system, which uses Proctorio’s technology, has received much backlash online, and rightly so. The platform helps to facilitate evaluations even if students cannot physically be present on campus, an unfortunate reality for many amidst our current COVID-19 pandemic world. However, by using Proctorio’s assets, universities are setting a dangerous precedent. One University of Dallas student journalist put it as “spyware cloaked under the guise of being an educational tool.” From knowing what tabs you have open, direct access to your camera and microphone, the ability to see what devices you have plugged in and eject them, it’s an unprecedented amount of power forced by universities onto already pressured students.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize that academic integrity is essential. Cheaters ruin our world, whether through traffic, shoddy quality goods, relationships, or taxes. Academia has a responsibility to protect itself against this, but not just because it hurts other students and our work. Ultimately, how we conduct ourselves in our schooling is how we approach our workplaces and our communities.

But enough is enough. The line was crossed months ago, and the excuse of COVID-19 simply isn’t good enough. These privacy concerns were already discussed at the start of the pandemic. In an April 7 Medium article, a former Bay Street lawyer (and Concordia alumnus), Fahad Diwan, broke down exactly how the university was violating student rights in a legal context. Shocker — he thinks it’s wrong and maybe even illegal.

“The use of Proctorio needs to be suspended until Proctorio can get manifest, free, and enlightened consent from students,” said Diwan in the post, “and Concordia University can demonstrate that online, closed-book exams are absolutely necessary.”

Well, that didn’t happen. The administration and faculties washed their hands of the controversy with the same excuse everyone is using — it’s COVID.

Let me ask my fellow educators and administrators — would you consent to this? Would you accept Concordia creeping into your computer, your files, your emails? And I’m not talking about your work machines. I’m talking about your personal tech because that’s what Proctorio does to students through their pervasive Chrome extension. Maybe you do because you have “nothing to hide.” And if that’s the case, I encourage you to post your login credentials publicly on your social media so we can all see why you are such a good netizen (please don’t do this — it’s against Concordia security policies, but also super stupid). This attitude is stunningly anachronistic that I feel genuine shame for those who utter it. Your computer, your phone, your tech IS YOUR BUSINESS.

But let’s go further: what if you were required to report your GPS location for every class you taught because the university told you they needed to verify where you were working for tax purposes? After COVID, what if they monitored when and where you were in the building because your phone automatically connects to Concordia’s wireless network? What if they said you needed to record all lectures and submit them to the university, where an independent team including students would assess if you were effective in teaching during your class discourse, as well as scanning for other problematic behaviour? What happens when you are required by Instructional and Information Technology Services (IITS) to install software that would monitor your productivity? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

These are no longer “what ifs.” They are WHENs. Like I said before, school environments dictate how we conduct ourselves in our communities and workplaces. By insisting students use these platforms instead of exploring alternative evaluation methods and being unwilling to show empathy for students, academia will receive the same fate. But what’s worse is that universities are setting up the digital prisons they so often rail against. How come Foucault’s panopticon, widely taught in the humanities, did not at least come up in the conversation when implementing this Orwellian spy apparatus?

I beg this: is it worth protecting against cheats if it makes you lose your soul? We’re not police officers —  we’re educators. We seek to empower our students, not wield power over them. Worse, we tell the world and every employer that these tactics are acceptable and to use them on the next generation of workers.

You might feel powerless in this situation. But students have the agency to resist. So, if you are taking exams this semester with COLE or with any system that uses Proctorio or other invasive technologies, fight back! Put a sign in your room or wear a T-shirt that says #ScrewCole or #ExamsNotProctology. It’s your right to free expression.

Before taking your exams, post photos on your social media and tag local media and journalists — encourage your friends and classmates to do the same. Because having to take a university exam shouldn’t mean your school gets to look through your life, digital or otherwise.


 Graphic by Taylor Reddam


Folks, we need to make cops more comfortable

A satirical approach highlighting why the SPVM should wear body cameras when dealing with citizens

Just last month, the SPVM released a whopping 215-page report concluding that body cams were an ineffective and overpriced project for the Montreal police force, effectively dropping it entirely. Additionally, the conclusions of a survey on officers revealed that they felt they were being watched and the cameras presented a breach of privacy, leading to them being uncomfortable having it on.

The conclusion of the report states that “according to the steps required by the local directive, it is up to the police officer to activate [the body camera], which has the effect of making them bear the weight of an important additional responsibility.” And folks, the last thing we need is around 3,000 people in possession of firearms and a dozen different incapacitating and violent tools (that are legally usable on civilians) to feel uncomfortable with the idea of additional responsibility!

This is why I come to you with a fervent plea: won’t somebody please think of the cops? Over the past few years, the SPVM has been through a myriad of “uncomfortable” situations and it would be a complete shame to burden them with extra responsibility.

Like when two Montreal police officers forcibly picked up a homeless man from downtown Montreal and drove him in a cruiser all the way to the Ontario border and dumped him there, according to CBC News. The punishment for essentially re-creating a kidnapping from one of the Taken movies with an innocent man off the streets was suspension with pay. However, fear not, because it took eight years to charge the officers with forcible confinement, assault and uttering threats, according to the same source. The arc of history is long, but it eventually ends with reluctantly admitting officers kidnapping people is bad. This whole conversation about using body cams does not consider the fact that serving and protecting Montreal is super hard when everyone can see footage of you loading a person into a cruiser like it’s moving day and chucking them into Ontario.

Or, imagine how awkward it would be if the officers tasked with spying and tracking journalist Patrick Lagacé in 2016 had to be held accountable for allegedly breaching his privacy by obtaining tracking warrants that allow the police to locate his cellphone via its GPS chip, according to The Globe and Mail. But, wait a minute, doesn’t the report on body cams mention that the officers felt uncomfortable being watched and isn’t this whole situation hypocritical? The answer is no, because cops need to be able to put someone in a chokehold for a minor infraction––turning on a surveillance device makes it difficult to squeeze a person’s entire respiratory system into dust as quickly as it would without surveillance. Meanwhile, journalists could potentially report on it and make the police look bad. Coming to terms with the consequences of your actions is just a hard concept to grasp when you’re on the force.

The report on body cams states that 90 per cent of the public has confidence in the SPVM. So, for the rest of you who probably think that cops harassing homeless people, spying on journalists to halt stories and pepper spraying protestors because they’ve been taunted one too many times is unwarranted—tough luck, because it seems like you hate cops getting comfortable with using their excessive amount of power on the daily. How dare you!

Finally, the report clearly indicates that it costs way too much to maintain the use of the body cameras. The pilot project cost $3.4 million and in order to implement them full-time, it would cost around $24 million a year, according to CTV News. I completely agree that it would be a waste of money for the SPVM. The police budget should strictly be used to make surveillance of citizens without their permission easier. Also, it should be used to equip officers with even deadlier weapons, so they can comfortably deal with people who are out of line. If the choice is between trusting the police’s promises or actually enforcing policies to keep them in check, you know I’m takin’ the path of least resistance…mostly because we all know what happens if we don’t.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee


Hey Big Brother, are you listening in?

How Canada is quickly becoming a surveillance nation

It is not uncommon for us Canadians to compare ourselves to our American neighbours. Often, we consider ourselves better off, especially when looking at an issue like national surveillance and privacy concerns for the general population.

In May 2013, American whistleblower Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong and published an array of classified documents, detailing the American government’s abuse of surveillance power. We scoffed at the unlawfulness of our neighbours to the south, yet are we really any better?

In the past few months alone, two cases of very controversial police action regarding surveillance in Canada were made public. These cases, both occurring in Montreal, have forced many, myself included, to question the power of the police as well as the amount of freedom we think we have.

At the end of October 2016, it became apparent that the mobile phone of La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé was being tracked for several months prior, by the SPVM – unbeknownst to him – in an attempt to identify some of his sources. The 24 separate warrants the police issued allowed for them to legally conduct this highly controversial operation.

“The new powers that the police have to surveil Canadians are absolutely horrifying. They’re basically limitless, there’s very little oversight and, when that happens, the system will be ripe for abuse, and this is just an example of how it’s abused,” said Tom Henheffer, the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) in an interview with CBC News.

The other case occurred in September of last year, when Michael Nguyen, a journalist with the Journal de Montréal journalist had his computer seized by the Quebec provincial police, after they believed he hacked their website to obtain information about a judge’s abusive behaviour. Nguyen and George Kalogerakis—the managing editor of Le Journal—are strongly condemning the actions taken by the Quebec police via multiple interviews with the media.

“I can tell you that our reporter did not break any laws to get his story,” said Kalogerakis in an interview with the Toronto Star. “We do not break laws at the Journal. We will contest the validity of the search warrant as far as we can.”

It is completely unacceptable, in my opinion, for the police to conduct themselves in this unethical, privacy-breaching manner—not because I am a journalism student, but because I am a human being with morals. The worst part is the police’s actions in the two abovementioned instances were completely legal because they obtained permits from the courts—and that worries me. How much privacy do we really have as Canadians?

While some may argue that journalists should realistically expect some interference from the police, these incidents of surveillance are deeply disturbing. Journalists are supposed to ask the difficult questions and investigate. How are we supposed to perform our duties when those in power are establishing a state of fear and intimidation?

In Edmonton, for example, the police recently admitted to using International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers, also known as “stingrays,” according to CBC News. These devices allow the police to essentially eavesdrop on any cell phone call within range of the device.

This sort of technology breaches privacy and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Privacy Act passed, which was adopted in 1983 and serves to protect Canadian citizens from surveillance. It allows the police to easily gain access to the private conversations of any individual, and this is just not right. Where do we draw the line between security and privacy? I can only imagine what the police will be allowing themselves to do next in the name of surveillance, if we continue on this path.

So far, Canada’s two largest police forces—the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP)—are refusing to confirm whether they use these devices, which work by picking up on the cellphone signals of people nearby. Both forces declined to comment when questioned by the Toronto Star with regards to their possible use of “stingrays.” The fact they haven’t denied it leads me to believe they may be using this technology, and it is worrisome.

It is our duty as Canadians and citizens of a democracy to question those with power and always fight for our rights and freedoms.

As Edward Snowden said, “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

Graphic by Florence Yee


Edward Snowden gives a virtual conference at McGill University

Former NSA employee talks surveillance, privacy and US elections

It was crowded at McGill University on Wednesday night, with thousands of people waiting outside the Leacock building to attend the Edward Snowden video conference.

Although the conference was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., it was delayed due to a protest by the Association of McGill University Support Employees (AMUSE), whose 1,500 members are on strike for better working conditions, from wage increases to employment stability. They formed a picket line in front of the huge crowd of people waiting outside, which prevented people from entering the building of the university. Eventually, people found their way inside, pushing each other through the picket line while screaming “Let us in!”

Due to the amount of people who turned up to hear Snowden speak, organizers had to set up a second room where people could watch a livestream version of the event. The conference began around 8 p.m.

Gabriella Coleman, an academic and author whose work focuses on hacker culture and online activism, gave the introduction to Snowden’s talk. Snowden, a former NSA contractor, is best known for leaking documents in 2013 about NSA surveillance activities.

Snowden, who’s currently in Moscow, Russia, appeared on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. He received a round of applause from the public as soon as he appeared.

He started the conference by saying he did not want the audience to hold a grudge against the AMUSE protesters, since they were practicing democracy.

Snowden’s main topics of the night were surveillance and privacy.

“We are all being watched, and it doesn’t matter if we do something wrong or right,” he said. With the rise of the Internet, computers and shared networks, he added, security and privacy is at risk. He explained prior to the digital age, surveillance was an expensive tool and it would take a large group of people to catch one individual. Nowadays, however, it is “financially and technologically possible for one person to watch over a full group of people without them knowing,” he said.

Snowden questioned the legitimacy of democracy when a government, which is elected by the public and is accountable to the public, does not need permission from the public to invade their privacy.

Snowden also weighed in on the recent revelation that Montreal police have been spying on journalists, including La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé. La Presse reported Monday, Oct. 31, that at least 24 surveillance warrants were issued for Lagacé’s iPhone this year at the request of the police special investigations unit. These warrants were used to track the journalist’s whereabouts using the GPS chip in his iPhone. The goal was to track his sources.

He described the controversy as a  “non-radical attack on freedom.”

“The government has built in so many loops in the law, so if the police don’t like a journalist, it’s great for them because he can go to a justice of the peace and this judge will let them into this guy’s phone.”

Snowden said there is a lack of public understanding about how government organizations operate, which is why, in 2013, he felt it would be of the public’s interest for him to reveal the realities of the NSA’s operations.

After his 15-minute talk, there was a question period. An attendee of the conference asked how we can ensure that security agencies go back to following the law in a reasonable way. Snowden’s answer: we can’t. He said the only way we possibly could get those agencies back on track with the law would be to appoint a judicial body that is mandated to perform a case by case review of these intelligence agencies’ use of powers to ensure that no illegalities occurred.

Snowden was asked to discuss the upcoming elections in the United States. He said if someone has to ask someone else who they’re voting for, they are not appreciating the value of their own opinion. “Don’t look to others to tell you who to vote for, look to you—read, listen to the conversation.” He also expressed his disappointment in the campaign’s focus on the candidates’ personalities rather than on the constitution. “We all need to recognize [and] be extremely cautious about putting all of our hopes in the candidates,” he said. “Well, you may appreciate one candidate above the other… we cannot rely on others to do the things that we must do for ourselves. Ultimately, if you want to build a better country, you’re going to have to build it yourself.”

When asked if mass surveillance is acceptable, Snowden explained that there is a lot of evidence suggesting that it is not very effective when it comes to terrorism. For example, in the wake of Snowden’s release of NSA’s surveillance practices, there was an independent review which concluded that the NSA’s phone data program was illegal and should end.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the report concluded.

“But what if it had made a difference?” Snowden asked. “It still wouldn’t have made it right,” he said. “We have human rights for a reason, and we protect them. Do we want to live in a world without them?”

Snowden was then asked about students and our generation’s role in this complex fight for privacy and freedom of speech. “Your generation is doing what people aren’t doing,” he said, giving the example of the very protest that had delayed the conference. He said he believes the new generation has to fight for privacy. “Privacy is not having something to hide—it’s about something to protect,” he said. “Saying you don’t care because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

He said our generation has the ability to make a change when it comes to maintaining privacy. “You have the obligation and the rights to change the game, it is the decision of your generation,” he said. “It is not my decision, not the government’s decision but your generation’s decision.”

“Hope to see you all next year in person,” Snowden concluded.


Glenn Greenwald to talk state surveillance at Concordia

Man behind Snowden’s leak to reveal extent of the modern surveillance state

On Friday, Oct. 24, Glenn Greenwald is coming to Concordia. For the uninitiated—or those living under a rock for the last year and a bit—Greenwald is one of the two journalists who brought the Edward Snowden leaks to the world and proved that America’s NSA was engaged in a massive, worldwide data-dragnet, scooping up every bit of information they could eavesdrop, buy, coerce, wiretap, or hack their way into.

Though there were a handful of leaks and even some class action lawsuits against the NSA’s operations before Greenwald published a single document, the American political and judicial system was doing a pretty good job at denying and suppressing the scope of its espionage industry.

A perfect example of the pre-Snowden environment lies with Mark Klein. In 2006, Klein blew the whistle on AT&T and their secret backdoor into customers and many other’s data. In a secret room the NSA had installed splitters to the backbone of the internet and was vacuuming up troves of data. The unclassified documents he supplied to a class action lawsuit against AT&T were undeniable proof of a wiretap unprecedented in scope, yet the U.S. Supreme Court, in 2012, upheld the immunity granted to the corporation by an appeals court, refusing to even hear the case.

The world had not yet tuned into the abuses by national security apparatus, and government officials were still considered honest and reliable sources. Some argued that Greenwald revealed very little that was not already known, at least in the early days of the leaks, but the true power of his revelations were in the government documents he could hold out as proof of the government’s perfidy.

The story of how Greenwald actually came into possession of NSA’s secrets unfolded like a spy novel full of clandestine meetings and intrigue.

Snowden flew to Hong Kong in late May and met with Greenwald and Laura Poitras in secret on June 1, 2013. Poitras was actually the first journalist to receive any documents from Snowden and was crucial to bringing Greenwald on board, as he had failed to take previous attempts at communication by Snowden seriously. Greenwald hadn’t taken the time to learn and install encrypted communication software that was a precondition for Snowden to talk about anything substantial, but Poitras did and she arranged the initial rendezvous.

The meeting itself took place in a high-end hotel in downtown Hong Kong where the trepidatious team of two — three if you include the producer that The Guardian foisted onto Greenwald and Poitras as a condition for their support though he was mostly kept in the dark — met with Snowden for the first time. They were shocked to meet, not the old and disenchanted bureaucrat of their imagination, but a 29-year-old man with access to America’s most secretive organization.

Four days later, after a battle with their publisher against the traditional restraint in reporting national security leaks, Greenwald published the first of his pieces on the surreptitious activities of the unrelenting agency known as the NSA.

Since that first article, Greenwald has started his own publication called The Intercept ( The project is funded by Pierre Omidyar, co-founder and chairman of eBay, and its founding editors are Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and Greenwald.

Greenwald’s book, No Place To Hide, chronicles the complete odyssey of Greenwald obtaining, discovering the true depths of the documents, and fighting to publish his articles at a practically unprecedented speed. Not to mention the retribution by the government, who, according to his book, broke into his Rio de Janeiro home to steal laptops they believed to hold the leaked documents.

In all, Greenwald’s visit to Concordia should be, at very least, interesting if not altogether edifying.

Hosted by the Concordia Student Union, Greenwald’s speech, entitled “State Surveillance and the Assault on Civil Liberties,” will take place Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. in the H-110 auditorium. Tickets are $5 to $10 and can be purchased at the CSU offices. For more information, visit the CSU’s Facebook page.

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