This blog post begins the first of three posts for our series of recommended readings for our upcoming conference, The Electronic Surveillance State: Canada’s role, global implications, and the question of reform. This blog is dedicated to our first panel, on Canada’s Role and Position. Over the last year, the media has given a high amount of attention for the United States of America’s information gathering by its National Security Agency (NSA), but little attention has been given to our own spy agencies, like the Canadian Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), and their spying operations.
Our first reading is a CBC News exclusive, written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher. The authors reveal that among the leaked documents by former NSA computer specialist and whistleblower, Edward Snowden, was one document outlining a CSEC program at Canadian airports that tracked the “wireless devices of thousands of ordinary online passengers,” including for days after the individuals had left the airport. Experts have decried this program, pointing out its illegality as CSEC is only allowed to collect foreign intelligence, it being illegal to target “Canadians or anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.” CSEC’s Chief John Forster claims that they have never targeted Canadians or anyone in Canada, claims that are not supported by the Snowden-leaked document. To see more on this topic, you can watch the video of John Forster at the Senate Committee review of Canadian security intelligence related services, alongside Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director, Michel Coulombe.
Experts also point out CSEC’s ability to collect and analyze “metadata,” which can reveal “the location and telephone numbers of all calls a person makes an receives – but not the content of the call.” Metadata may sound harmless but cyber security researcher and author of Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace, Ronald Deibert explains that metadata can give away “extraordinarily precise information about our movements and social relationships.”
The leaked document also indicated that the CSEC airport program was aided by the NSA and may have even been used to impress our international counterparts, like the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia, who together with Canada make up the “Five Eyes Intelligence Network.” What is still unclear however, is how CSEC gained access to the airports wifi usage, with representatives from Canada’s two largest airports – Vancouver and Toronto – claiming that the airports were not involved in any way.
The Ontario Privacy Commissioner and our keynote speaker for the CIC – TO Conference, Ann Cavoukian was “blown away” by the document’s revelations and even asserted that the program belonged to that of a “totalitarian state, not a free and open society.” International cyber security expert Wesley Wark also commented on the documents, his remarks stressing the need for oversight and criticizing our current system of oversight, a single judge appointed by the Prime Minister, which has created the “circumstances ripe for potential abuse.” Cavoukian is calling for a broader conversation between the government and the Canadian public, with the government needing to offer the public some real answers.