August 22, 2013 Leave a comment
The Canadian International Council has put out a good set of background information concerning the Ottawa’s surveillance programs.
The importance of this issue cannot be underestimated. Canada’s surveillance policy seems disturbingly similar to that in the US. When the government denies that it is spying on Canadians, it is reasonable to think it is “bending the truth” a little.
Canada is part of a multinational “global surveillance supergroup” called “Five Eyes“. Furthermore, a lot of Canadians’ data goes through servers in the United States, where Canadians have no legal privacy protections.
What kind of data is the Canadian government collecting?
Since 2001 Canada’s government surveillance agency, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been monitoring communications transmitted from or received in Canada to identify potential security threats. Part of the Canadian security apparatus since 1941, CSEC currently employs 2,000 people and has a budget of $422 million, according to statements made by CSEC spokesperson Ryan Foreman.
CSEC has increasingly focused on mining communications metadata, which refers to mass computer searches for information on electronic communications. The handing over of telephonic metadata from American Verizon subscribers to the NSA sparked the ongoing debatein the U.S. This type of metadata can include where a telephone call is initiated from, the number to which the call is made, and the duration of the call.
What does metadata tell the government?
Data points like these allow the government to map out not only who knows who, but how well and for what purpose. Deviations from established patterns of activity can also be identified and analyzed. Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert has pointed out that “MIT researchers who studied 15 months of anonymized cellphone metadata of 1.5 million people found four “data points” were all they needed to figure out a person’s identity 95 per cent of the time… Access to metadata, when combined with powerful computers and algorithms, can also allow entire social networks to be mapped in space and time with a degree of precision that is extraordinarily unprecedented, and extraordinarily powerful.”
Is the government mining my metadata?
CSEC insists that it does not target Canadian citizens and that metadata intercepted unintentionally is safeguarded under Canadian privacy laws.
So why should I be worried?
Concerns over data mining and surveillance were voiced in Canada even before Snowdenexposed the NSA’s PRISM, Xkeyscore, and affiliated programs. Globe and Mail reporter Colin Freeze has written that on November 11, former Defence Minister Peter McKay introduced legislation to renew Canada’s metadata surveillance program. The program had been suspended after a federal watchdog expressed concerns that there were insufficient checks on the extra data collected on individuals of no interest to security personnel vacuumed up in the process of collecting data on suspicious individuals. One worry was that data gathered by CSEC as part of “foreign intelligence” collection could end up being shared with the domestic law enforcement agencies who would normally need a warrant.
Despite a lack of public evidence that such issues have been addressed, CSEC’s importance within the Canadian security establishment is growing. Colin Freeze has reported that “the Canadian government is building CSEC a gleaming new $900-million, 72,000-square-metre compound in Ottawa – even as it has relocated military and RCMP operations to older, cheaper offices on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, in buildings vacated by fallen technology companies.”
— Read more at OpenCanada.org —