Concerns over CSEC snooping date back to 2007?

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.

According to a report marked “top Secret” that was obtained by the Globe and Mail, Charle Gonthier, the CSEC watchdog, had raised concerns that Canadian’s privacy were likely being compromised saying his office had questions on “whether CSCE is always in compliance with the limits” of its metadata collection.

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.


Apple has recently said that it received 4,000 to 5,000 request for user data from the U.S. government between December 2012 and May 2013. The data sought was not limited to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enquiries but also included information regarding missing persons and information needed to solve crimes. Apple said it did not provide authorities direct access to its servers.
Last Friday, Microsoft said it received 6,000 to 7,000 requests for information involving 31,000 to 32,000 accounts in the last six months. Facebook said 19,000 user accounts were queried by the U.S. government.

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.

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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