The head of the agency that manages Canada’s .ca domain says the country should build out its own internet infrastructure to avoid spying by the U.S. National Security Agency.
Byron Holland, president of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), says internet traffic in Canada is often routed through U.S. exchange points, making it vulnerable to NSA monitoring.
“All the events coming out of the U.S. with the NSA (National Security Agency) and the PRISM program highlight that it’s a good idea to keep traffic in your own jurisdiction as much as you can,” he said, as quoted at IT Business.
Internet exchange points are physical locations where internet service providers can exchange traffic between their networks. They allow local internet traffic to stay local, and reduce the costs associated with internet services. They typically operate as not-for-profit enterprises.
CIRA recently launched a discussion forum where the agency hopes to spark a debate on government surveillance in the age of the internet.
“The time has come for a national dialogue about online surveillance in Canada,” Holland wrote in a National Post column earlier this year.
“Yes, governments should have the power to monitor citizens under certain circumstances and with the appropriate oversight. But we are now in uncharted waters, with governments having unfettered ability to monitor the wide-ranging activity of an unprecedented number of people in every corner of the world.”
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With the opening of the Manitoba Internet Exchange late last month, Canada now has five internet exchanges. The oldest among them, Toronto’s TorIX, is the 20th-largest in the world by traffic volume.
All the same, Canadian web traffic is still routed through exchange points in the U.S., Holland says, even though it’s often inefficient to do so.
“I could be sending you an e-mail from downtown Ottawa to another point in Ottawa, and there’s a 40 per cent chance that will go through the U.S.,” he says. Building more Canadian exchange points “will significantly reduce the chance of that happening.”
Data from the NSA leaked to the media this summer by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA collects millions of Americans’ email data daily, and uses a program called PRISM to monitor activity on social networks.
Many experts said it’s inevitable, given the integrated nature of the internet, that Canadians’ communications are being swept up by the NSA.
But even if Canadian web traffic were to stop being routed through the U.S., Canadians could still find their online activity monitored by their own government.
Documents obtained by the Canadian Press and the Globe and Mail earlier this year showed that then-defence minister Peter MacKay in 2011 approved the re-start of a secret program that scours the internet, both within Canada and abroad, for suspicious activity.
According to an Ipsos-Reid poll carried out for CIRA, 49 per cent of Canadians say it’s acceptable for the government to monitor online activity in some circumstances. That number rises to 77 per cent when those circumstances involve preventing “future terrorist attacks.”
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this article suggested that building internet exchange points in Canada could keep all domestic web traffic from passing through the U.S. In actuality, there is no way to guarantee that web traffic would not continue to pass through the U.S., but a larger number of Canadian exchange points would reduce the likelihood of this happening. The Huffington Post has edited this article to make the point clearer.