Privacy and surveillance have taken centre stage this week with the revelations that U.S. agencies have been engaged in massive, secret surveillance programs that include years of capturing the meta-data from every cellphone call on the Verizon network (the meta-data includes the number called and the length of the call) as well as gathering information from the largest Internet companies in the world including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple in a program called PRISM. This lengthy post provides some background on the U.S. programs, but focuses primarily on the Canadian perspective, arguing that many of the same powers exist under Canadian law and that it is likely that Canadians have been caught up by these surveillance activities.
The first revelation came from a story by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian, in which he reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting phone records from millions of Verizon customers each day. U.S. authorities have sought to downplay the significance of the “meta data” from the phone calls, but many experts note that meta data can be more revealing than the content of the call itself. The cell phone meta data collection appears to be authorized through provisions from the USA Patriot Act, which permits a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to order a business to produce certain documents. As Margot Kaminski explains, there are few safeguards over these programs.