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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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.