June 2013 in review: Edward Snowden starts revealing NSA secrets

Time Magazine debated making Edward Snowden its Man of the Year. Too bad it didn’t.

Snowden, the former contract security worker for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) began spilling the beans in June through newspapers on what American, British and Canadian spy agencies have secretly been able to gain access to online.

What we have learned over the months that followed is that not only are these agencies snooping around the communications of unfriendly nations – which they are supposed to do —  but also those of our supposed allies, they are swallowing huge amounts of metadata on the email and cellphone conversations of ordinary people without judicial warrants and they are apparently able to delve directly into email messages of services like Yahoo and Facebook.

Initially, Snowden’s revelation that U.S. agencies are collecting metadata didn’t mean much to most enterprises. But as the stories went on there were ripples – a number of organizations use Gmail. How safe is it for corporate communications? At the same time Google, Yahoo and Microsoft demanded the U.S. government make it clear there are no quiet arrangements with security agencies that give spies access to their customers’ data.

In December came allegations that the NSA paid security vendor RSA $10 million to use an unsecure algorithm in its products that would allegedly make encrypted data easier to decode. It’s a claim that should make every enterprise demand clarification.

As time goes by organizations won’t be able to dismiss Snowden’s documents as having nothing to do with their operations. That’s what makes him newsmaker of the year.

Also this month Ontario’s ongoing controversy on the abandoned plans to build two natural gas power plants in the Toronto area became an IT story when the provincial privacy commissioner revealed the former chief of staff to the energy minister had deleted his email when he left his job. That erased a possible trail of evidence.

At the time commissioner Ann Cavoukian said she was told by an expert the deleted mail couldn’t be recovered. That proved not to be true. However, the incident should be a wake up call to all organizations to review their document retention policies.

Meanwhile the Harper government finally acted to put spine in its wireless policy, which was in danger of collapsing with financially-troubled startup Mobilicity trying to sell itself to Telus, and Rogers Communications trying to keep spectrum out of the hands of competitors through deals with Shaw Communications and Videotron.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced there would be no exceptions to the ban on startup carriers transferring spectrum to incumbents before 2014 – effectively killing the Mobilicity deal – and adding a new policy: It will consider concentration of spectrum in all bands when considering allowing one wireless company to buy another.

Later statements by now Industry Minister James Moore suggest that there are no circumstances under which Telus, Rogers or Bell could get prized AWS spectrum held by new frequency holders like Mobilicity, Shaw and Videotron.

Ottawa obviously wants to ensure the survival of new carriers, but there may be a price: Uncertainty over whether a company can sell assets likely kept big foreign carries from entering the bidding for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction.

Also in June Wind Mobile’s biggest financial backer, VimpleCom, gave up its effort to buy out its Canadian partners. Reports suggested Ottawa had security concerns.

Meanwhile the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) effectively gave cellphone companies until December to end three-year contracts.

Also in June:

Ericsson said it will build an information technology and communications centre in Quebec


How can China break into the servers of other countries? Maybe because it build supercomputers like this one.

Xerox Canada executive named new ITAC chair. Read the chat I had with him.

I also talked and did a video interview in June with the CEO of Canada’s N8 Identity Inc., which makes identity and access management solutions

The federal government is consolidating its data centres and corporate applications. to that end Bell, CGI won a contract to supply much of the government’s email service

BlackBerry — still officially Research in Motion — took a step backwards after its triumphant launch of the new Z10 smart phone. Quarterly figures released in June showed it lost $84 million after gaining $94 million the previous quarter. 

Another video interview we did was from the Canada 3.0 conference with Michael Serbinis,co-founder of e-book specialist Kobo. Click here to learn his insights into the $250 billion market.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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