Canada has program to eavesdrop on its citizens, too

Alec Hill Contributor
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Canadian citizens are subject to similar warrantless surveillance of their telephone communications as Americans have been since 2007, a Canadian newspaper reported Monday morning.

The Globe and Mail alleged that under the direction of Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay in November 2011, Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) renewed a defunct surveillance program comparable to the National Security Administration’s collection of telephone communication data from its own citizens.

The program, like the one in the U.S., amasses huge amounts of telephone “metadata”: not the actual content of a call but instead the details of who called whom, the location of each party, and the duration of the call. Many have noted that on a large scale, metadata could paint pictures of entire social networks and patterns of communications.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments contend that such data is a key tool in helping security agencies understand and combat the larger structure of terrorist organizations.

The CSEC also takes pains to ignore domestic communications, spokesman Ryan Foreman told the Globe and Mail: “Metadata is used to isolate and identify foreign communications, as CSEC is prohibited by law from directing its activities at Canadians.”

On Saturday, the Huffington Post Canada theorized that it was likely the Canadian government had programs in place to monitor its citizens communications in the same way as the U.S. The Globe and Mail’s report is the first confirmation that such a program exists in Canada.

Reporter Daniel Tencer also concluded that because of the nature of wireless communication, it was inevitable that Canadian citizens were being caught in the NSA’s surveillance dragnet. Tencer quoted expert Ronald Deibert, who told the Toronto Star that “the fact of the matter is about 90 per cent of Canadian traffic — no one really knows the exact number — is routed through the United States.”

Unlike the American program, which numerous members of Congress were apparently aware of and in support of, the Canadian surveillance was enacted by a series of “ministerial directives” which were not reviewed by the Canadian Parliament.