POLITICS

Ontario Privacy Watchdog Is Not Amused With The NSA (VIDEO)

09/09/2013 06:44 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 06:44 EDT

Ontario's privacy watchdog delivered a scathing indictment of the NSA's efforts to circumvent internet encryption standards.

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner, released a YouTube video Friday after The New York Times, in collaboration with The Guardian and ProPublica, reported that the U.S. National Security Agency has successfully "circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world."

Cavoukian takes issue with governments devoting so many resources to getting around encryption.

"I just find it so unfortunate, so depressing that governments are spending resources trying to crack code as opposed to working with organizations in a way that would allow highly-developed encryption systems to be respected," Cavoukian said. "I find it so disappointing that this is what our resources are being devoted to instead of creative efforts that respect citizens."

Cavoukian then argues that we need greater transparency and accountability regarding government surveillance.

"Who the heck is ordering this stuff to happen and what oversight is there over these organizations that are calling for these activities? ... The public has a right to know what their governments are doing theoretically at their behest. Remember, the government is there at the pleasure of the governed," Cavoukian said. "This is about the people."

Cavoukian was also outspoken in her criticism of the now-defunct Conservative internet surveillance bill famously championed by former minister Vic Toews. She called Bill C-30 “one of the most invasive threats to our privacy and freedom that I have ever encountered."

University of Ottawa professor and prominent web expert Michael Geist has said a provision in the legislation would have opened the door to an NSA-style surveillance program in Canada. Section 14(4) of Bill C-30, according to Geist, would have given carte blanche to government agencies to install whatever monitoring equipment they want on telecom service providers’ networks.

The Harper government withdrew Bill C-30 (known as the “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act”) earlier this year, after public concerns the bill would allow the government to monitor Canadians without a warrant online, but many political observers say the government is already sowing the seeds for a similar new bill to come.

Regardless, Canadian information is already being captured in the NSA's digital web and many experts say CSEC, Canada's answer to the American security agency, is capable of conducting similar operations.

Revelations regarding American surveillance programs revealed by documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden have made headlines around the world and prompted tech companies and individuals to deploy new measures to protect their data.

Google has recently fast-tracked a program to encrypt its users' information and Snowden has called on all journalists to encrypt correspondence with sources.

Experts have stressed that The New York Times story does not indicate that the NSA has "cracked" the web's most advanced encryption math, but rather that the agency likely uses workarounds, such hacking networks before messages are encrypted, to circumvent attempts to scramble messages.

With files from previous stories.

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