Who Is Watching the Watchers?: Ten Questions About Canada's Secret Metadata Surveillance Activities
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Thursday June 13, 2013
The surveillance story
may have started last week in the U.S. with the leak of several secret
surveillance programs including massive surveillance of the metadata
from all cellphone calls, but the Canadian questions continue to mount.
The U.S. disclosures immediately raised questions about the possibility
of Canadian involvement or the inclusion of Canadian data. Given the common communication infrastructure and the similarity between Canadian and U.S. laws, it seemed likely that Canada was engaged in much the same activities.
By Monday, the Globe was reporting that the CSEC has its own metadata surveillance program with
approval granted through a ministerial directive from Defence Minister
Peter MacKay in 2011. When questioned about the issue, MacKay sought to
assure Canadians that the surveillance only involved foreign
communications. Despite those assurances, the questions have continued
- How much U.S. collected data is shared with Canadian
agencies? Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who was a cabinet
minister with responsibility for CSIS in 2002-03, told
the Toronto Star that such sharing was common, providing a
back-door way to access information.
- Was the metadata surveillance program halted for several years
as the Globe reported or was it always operational? The Toronto
that Wesley Wark believes the program was never stopped. The
CSEC 2010-11 Annual Report suggests
that some activities were halted.
- Who actually knows the specifics on the metadata
program? The Globe reports
today that Senator Hugh Segal, the chair of the parliamentary
anti-terrorism committee, was unaware of the details of the
- What level of cooperation exists with Canadian telecom
companies? They aren't talking, prevented from doing so by gag
orders that keep their participation largely secret.
- The CSEC 2006-07 annual report indicated
that there was a review of CSEC use of metadata underway.
What happened to that review?
- How extensive is the CSEC activities on metadata? The
organization is currently recruiting
data mining specialists and data mining is a key
research focus for its Tutte Institute for Mathematics and
Computing. In fact, Bill Robinson pointed
out the CSEC's emphasis on data mining as far back as
- Does the CSEC even believe that metadata surveillance
constitutes an intercept? Robinson notes
that in 2007, then CSE Chief John Adams seemed to argue
that it would not. This is particularly relevant given that the
law requires permission for surveillance of private
communications. As Craig Forcese notes,
if the scope of metadata is limited, no permission would be
- Does the CSEC believe that there is a reasonable expectation
of privacy for metadata? The government tried to downplay
the privacy significance of IP addresses during the fight over
lawful access (Bill C-30). Would it try to argue that the
metadata does not enjoy privacy protections? Forcese raises
the Charter of Rights issues that hang in the balance.
- What does Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart
know? What is she prepared to do as part of a promised
investigation? Will the office use its audit power to also
focus on the major Canadian telecom companies?
- How have Canadian courts addressed these issues? Reported
cases are heavily redacted.
So far, there are many questions but few answers.
Thursday June 13, 2013