With the recent revelations about Canada’s spying on Brazil and accusations of illegal spying on Canadian citizens, the issue of government surveillance has never been more prominent in America’s northern neighbor.
The Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC) is Canada’s NSA counterpart, but the agency is also part of a larger spying apparatus called UKUSA (Five Eyes), which includes the US NSA, the UK Government Communications Headquarters, the Australian Signals Directorate and the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau. According to Canadian law, CSEC is not permitted to spy on anyone inside Canada or Canadians anywhere in the world except for the purpose of assisting domestic law enforcement with proper legal authorization. Unsurprisingly, such legislation hasn’t prevented such spying from being conducted.
Since little has been uncovered about the extent of illegal activities and scope of victimization, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and OpenMedia have filed a lawsuit against CSEC for violating its Charter of Rights and Freedoms over the interception of private communications and the collection of on-line and phone metadata.
One of the acknowledged problems is the lack of any independent oversight in an area that inevitably allows such surveillance over-reach. This from a recent op-ed by former Canadian Senator Tommy Banks:
“We are the only one of the five – in fact we’re the only one among all significant nations to have no legislative oversight direction or scrutiny over matters of national security intelligence.
In 2004 a special committee of parliamentarians (comprising seven members from all parties of the House of Commons, two other senators and me) was charged with advising the government on setting up such parliamentary oversight…
We wrote a quite-detailed report describing the clear necessity in today’s communications regime of such oversight or scrutiny; and proposing the way we thought it should work in Canada…
Our report was made in October 2004. The government then was moving in the direction of putting some parliamentary oversight into place. But that movement was interrupted by the 2006 change in government.”
It’s shocking to find out that Canada has a complete lack of oversight over its spying agency, given the attention to worldwide surveillance at the moment.
One of the most damning revelations from the NSA leaks was Canada’s exposed spying on Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, which has been described as industrial espionage, perpetrated by either Canada or another Five Eye partner nation. Professor Wesley Wark, one of the leading experts on Canadian intelligence, says the spying task was probably handed down by one of its Five Eyes partners – most likely the NSA – which has spied on Brazil before:
“It would fit in with the modus operandi of the Five Eyes partnership that an intelligence task like this, which would include intelligence collected by one partner, might actually be handed over to another partner for processing and work…very often the intelligence that’s gathered is distributed among partners to be worked up and I suspect that’s what’s happening in this case.”
Bill Robinson, a prominent blogger on Canadian signals intelligence, agrees:
“The fact that CSE was freely discussing the Brazil operation with its partner agencies, and enlisting the direct aid of NSA’s Tailored Access Operations division, is a pretty strong indication that the information Canada was seeking in this case was not for the purpose of giving specific Canadian companies an advantage – or at least not in those activities that might involve competition with US, British, Australian, or New Zealand firms.
The information sought may well have been of a more generally useful nature to all of the partners, such as information on the extent and exploitability of Brazilian oil and gas reserves.”
It should also be noted that Canada has significant mining interests in Brazil, with more than twenty companies already operating within the country. Years ago, the government allowed industry representatives to have access to classified intelligence, ostensibly for security reasons. This blatant collusion is one more example of the increasingly blurred line between industry and government. In this respect, things are no different in Canada than they are in America.
So far, there has not been any substantial response from the Canadian government about this shameful spying episode. On a more optimistic note, there’s a renewed campaign to thwart federal legislation that would cement the warrant-less collection of private communications into law. With the current state of affairs in Canada’s Parliament, there is little chance that legislation introduced by the governing party will be voted down, since opposition parties don’t have enough votes. The real opposition has to come from the people in order to stop this from happening.
Written by an anonymous Canadian
Anyone interested in the issue of government surveillance should watch this highly informative panel discussion with journalist James Bamford, NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and Thomas Drake and ACLU’s Alex Abdo (they appear at the 4 hour 58 minute mark):