Officials in Ottawa appear to have been worried as far back as 2007 that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was overstepping its bounds in collecting metadata on Canadian phone calls and online communications.
For several weeks now, media reports concerning government surveillance of public phone and Internet communications have centered on the United States National Security Agency’s use of a program known as Prism. The program was being used to collect data from U.S. companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Google.
Last week, The Globe and Mail also reported the Harper government had issued a similar directive to gather metadata from public communication traffic here back in 2011.
Records obtained by the Globe indicate that some of CSEC’s data gathering activities were actually put on hold from April 2007 before Gonthier issued his warning. The activities resumed October 2008 with new rules under then Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The changes suggest that something may have gone wrong and that the government was willing to suspend information gathering for more than a year.
The CSEC traces its roots to the Cold war era during which the civilian agency listened in on foreign signals. Shortly after the September 11, 2011 terrorist attack on the U.S., Parliament passed an anti-terrorist act which enlisted CSEC in the fight against al-Queda
CSEC and NSA are close allies. While CSEC has never fully adopted NSA’s practices and software, the Canadian agency borrows some of its approach.
For instance, the NSA has built a $2 billion data centre in Utah that is capable processing a zettabyte of data. The Canadian government is building a $900 million 72,000-square-metre compound in Ottawa for the CSEC.