Canadian Journal of Law and Technology


Surveillance, digital economy, personal information


The growth of modern surveillance has attracted great public and scholarly interest. As Justice Abella recently noted in Douez v. Facebook, the Internet has transformed the potential harms flowing from an unjustified invasion of one’s personal information. Most analyses of the associated risks, however, imply that the techniques and motivations for surveillance are new. In fact, tactics for collecting and exchanging information about individuals to gain power over those individuals are well documented since time immemorial. From William the Conquerer’s Domesday Book to IBM’s first census tabulating machine, the advantage gained through data sharing has greatly benefited the state. The history of surveillance, however, is not solely a history of government surveillance. The explosion of commercial and consumer credit, the ‘‘vital air of the system of commerce,” in the 19th century transformed surveillance by perfecting the process of flattening an individual’s identity into a monetizable reputation. Collecting and exchanging personal information became the artillery of the private sector, a necessity for growth and market saturation. Today, we are deeply accustomed to having our identities tested and our personal stories collected in commercial settings, taking for granted the infrastructures that trade them, and their justifications for doing so. In our highly mediated, digital economy, there is often no alternative to these legitimate invasions.