The former head of Canada's answer to the NSA doesn't have a very high opinion of his fellow citizens.
John Adams, the former chief of Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) told a Senate meeting Wednesday that Canadians are "stupid" and post too much information on social media, according to The Globe and Mail.
"One half is stupid, and the other half is stupid," Adams said about how Canadians are perceived. "I can confirm that. We put more online, [on] Facebook, than any other country in the world."
Adams, who ran CSEC from 2005 until 2011, made the comments at a meeting of Senate Liberals gathered to discuss Bill C-220. The legislation, which Adams supports, would establish a Parliamentary committee to oversee Canada's expanding surveillance state.
And if Adams' own accounts of how CSEC has been operating are true, then it seems more oversight is badly needed. Late last year Adams told The Globe that he was forced to shut down a CSEC program because it was applying practices usually reserved for monitoring foreigners to surveil Canadians.
"Protecting Canada means you’re going to be hitting Canadians," Adams told the Globe. "The trouble with it was they were applying ‘SigInt’ [Signals Intelligence] practices to internal [communications] and it was just a little too loose."
By law, CSEC is not supposed to monitor the communications of Canadians. But the agency has acknowledged this year that it sometimes "incidentally" spies on citizens while targeting foreign entities. CSEC seems to have maneuvered around the legal requirement via a special, and secret, order from the Minister of National Defence.
According to CSEC, "The National Defence Act acknowledges that [surveillance of Canadians] may happen and provides for the Minister of National Defence to authorize this interception in specific circumstances." The Globe reported last year that former Defence Minister Peter MacKay issued such an order in 2011, reauthorizing a metadata collection program that had been shut down over privacy concerns. The Globe does not make it clear whether the program MacKay reauthorized is the same one shut down by Adams.
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According to documents given to Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier, the federal government asks telecom for data on subscribers 1.2 million times a year. That’s one request for every 30 Canadians, every year. Most of those requests don’t involve a warrant, and in 2011 telecoms complied with at least 784,000 of those requests.
The federal government spent more than $50 million buying high-security communications technology from the U.S. National Security Agency, according to data unearthed by Vice magazine. There have been at least 73 contracts for telecommunications equipment procured through the NSA over the past decade.
According to documents given to NDP MP Charmaine Borg under an access to information request, some telecoms are building databases of customer information specifically for police use. A Competition Bureau document noted the bureau had "accessed the Bell Canada Law Enforcement Database" 20 times in 2012-2013.
At least one Canadian telecom is evidently giving the government unrestricted access to communications on its network, according to documents from Canada’s privacy commissioner. The unnamed telecom says the government has the ability to copy the traffic on its communications network, then mine the copied data to determine what sort it is.
Critics say Bill C-13, the “anti-cyberbullying bill” the Harper government is promoting, is essentially a back-door for a host of measures that would allow greater government intrusion into private lives. The bill would provide legal immunity to telecoms that hand over customer data without a warrant, and would lower the standard under which police can get warrantless data. Digital rights group OpenMedia says the bill “would let ... authorities create detailed profiles of Canadians based on who they talk to and what they say and do online.” Pictured: Justice Minister Peter MacKay
Industry Minister James Moore's Digital Privacy Act is being billed as “protection for Canadians when they surf the web and shop online,” but critics say it amounts to a wholesale threat to the privacy rights it ostensibly aims to enshrine. Bill S-4 would allow internet service providers to share customer data with any organization that is investigating a possible breach of contract, such as a copyright violation, or illegal activity. Thus, private corporations, and not just the government, could obtain personal information about you. The bill would also eliminate court oversight of file-sharing lawsuits, which critics fear would lead to the sort of “copyright trolling” seen in the U.S.
An estimated 90 per cent of Canadian Internet traffic moves through the U.S., which means that Canadians are being caught up in the NSA’s surveillance dragnet, experts say. Data passes through “filters and checkpoints” and is “shared with third parties, with law enforcement and of course intelligence agencies that operate in the shadows,” says Ronald Deibert, head of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.
Documents obtained by the Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press suggest that Canada is engaged in mass warrantless surveillance. The documents show then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay signed a ministerial directive in November, 2011, authorizing the re-start of “a secret electronic eavesdropping program that scours global telephone records and Internet data trails – including those of Canadians – for patterns of suspicious activity.”
Canada’s electronic spy agency, CSEC, will see its budget skyrocket to $829 million in 2014-15, from $444 million this year. Pictured: CSEC's new $1.2-billion headquarters in Ottawa, currently under construction.
According to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place To Hide,” Canada took some $300,000 to $400,000 from the NSA in 2012 to develop surveillance capabilities. However, that money amounts to a drop in the bucket given CSEC’s $829 million budget for electronic surveillance. Pictured: Glenn Greenwald
The CSEC was in charge of developing an international standard for encryption keys to transmit data securely. But according to documents obtained by the New York Times, CSEC handed over control of the standard to the NSA, allowing the U.S. surveillance agency to build back-doors that allowed it to crack the encryptions. As a result, the NSA was able to crack data transmissions that internet users thought were secure.
The Harper government allowed the U.S. to carry out widespread surveillance in Canada during the G20 meeting in Toronto in 2010, according to documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Few details of the espionage were released, but it appears this is a sort of rotating circle of spying: Canada helped the U.S. and U.K. spy on the 2009 G20 conference in London.
Beyond the CSEC program, it is clear many government agencies are already collecting Canadians' personal information without warrants. Canada's telecom companies are legally permitted to hand over customers' personal information without court order. A recent request from the federal privacy commissioner revealed that federal agencies make about 1.2 million requests to the service providers each year. The actual number of requests is undoubtedly much higher since only three of nine telecom companies provided the commissioner with information.
And the Conservative Government's cyber-bullying legislation, C-13, is set to provide even more legal cover to service providers to hand over information without a warrant. It will also lower the standard required from agencies to make requests for data.
The NDP has called on the government to split the legislation in two, separating the measures aimed at stopping cyberbullying from those designed to make it easier for the feds to collects personal information from Canadians. Justice Minister Peter MacKay has said it would be "perverse" to split the legislation.
As for the information Canadians are willingly posting on public social media platforms, the federal government is sucking that up too. Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said many government institutions are collecting such information.
However, there is a democratic argument to be made for the practice, one reliant on "stupid" Canadians expressing their views openly online. Privacy expert Michael Geist wrote earlier this week that the Conservative government shelved its previous surveillance legislation, Bill C-30, in part due to opposition it tracked on social media.
Nevertheless, there are privacy concerns about how much scrutiny the government is giving to what Canadians do on Facebook and Twitter. Clement told podcaster Jesse Brown that the feds only collect social data in "aggregate" but a subsequent report from VICE proved that this is not the case and that the government has recorded the text of specific tweets.
There is truth to the argument that Canadians share more online than the citizens of other nations. Facebook said in 2013 that Canadians are the most avid users of the service in the world. Whether Canadians' free use of such services turns out to be "stupid" will depend heavily on what their government does with that information in the future.