Canada’s NSA Equivalent Starring Latest Snowden Revelation

Yesterday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) broke the news about an invasive domestic collection activity of the Communication Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the country’s foreign signals intelligence agency. A presentation, classified “Top Secret” and leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, outlines the 2 week experimental run of what was labeled “IP Profiling Analytics.” The measure allowed the intelligence agency to pick up travelers’ electronic devices at airport Wi-Fi hotspots and track them throughout the country, whenever they would connect again to a hotel, coffee shop, library, transportation hub, or any other public hotspot in Canada.


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Cyber security authority Ronald Deibert reviewed the leaked document and summarized his findings in an op-ed, published today by The Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record. The University of Toronto Professor held that

[a]ssuming the documents are legitimate, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that these activities constitute a clear violation of CSEC’s mandates and almost certainly of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [the first part of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982, similar to the United States Bill of Rights].



[t]he revelations […] throw into sharp relief the obvious inadequacy of the existing ‘oversight’ mechanism, which operates entirely within the security tent.


Correspondingly, Deibert brought up three concerns:

  1. The mission: In response to the CBC coverage, CSEC reconfirmed its mission in a written statement, due to which it “is mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians, and by law, only directs its foreign intelligence activities at foreign entities.” Further, “[i]t is important to note that no Canadian or foreign travelers were tracked.” Yet, due to Deibert, the leaked presentation implies the opposite.
  2. The law: According to its mandate, CSEC is further “legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata.” As Deibert put it, the objective of such a bulk metadata collection is “to separate the ‘needle from the haystack’ – the haystack being, of course, all of us [Canadian citizens].” Accordingly, the courts will have to decide, if metadata relating to Canadian citizens is covered by CSEC’s statutory mandate, thus constituting foreign signals intelligence in a wider sense, or if it is “Canadian communication” protected by the country’s Constitution Act, 1982.
  3. The oversight mechanism: Experts already stated before this revelation that CSEC operations would be even more secretive and less checked in democratic terms than those of the NSA. What Deibert referred to as “obvious inadequacy of the existing ‘oversight’ mechanism” is the fact that CSEC is overseen by only one commissioner, appointed by the prime minister and reporting to the minister of defense, who is also responsible for the intelligence agency. Additionally, a CBC inquiry documented several commissioners’ doubts in CSEC’s compliance with laws and regulations in place.

Following Canadian media since Snowden’s first interview in Hong Kong, it is my perception that the invasive scope of CSEC operations has remained in the shadow of the ubiquitous coverage of NSA activities. This latest Snowden revelation may raise public awareness and spark the political debate in Ottawa about adequate oversight of intelligence collection.

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Professor William Snyder

Professor William C. Snyderis a member of the faculty of the Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism at Syracuse University after fifteen years with the United States Department of Justice.

Ryan D. White

Ryan D. WhiteRyan is currently a third year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Ryan spent time with Homeland Security Investigations while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and spent his first summer of law school as clerk for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. He is a member of Syracuse Law Review, the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and participates in the Veteran’s Legal Clinic. Full biography

Shelby E. Mann

Ryan D. WhiteShelby is a second year law student at the Syracuse University College of Law. She is the 2018-9 Editor in Chief of the Syracuse Law Review, as well as a member of the Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis, and the senior editor for the Syrian Accountability Project. During her final year at the University of Missouri, she served as a full-time news producer for ABC 17 News. Shelby spent her first summer of law school at the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office in Memphis, Tenn., in the Public Corruption and Economic Crimes Unit. Full biography

Christopher w. FolkChristopher W. Folk

is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. A non-traditional student, Christopher returned to academia after spending nearly twenty years in the high tech industry. Christopher served in the Marine Corps, graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. In Applied Economics and Business Management, attended Northeastern University’s High-Tech MBA Program and received a M.S. In Computer Information Systems. Christopher previously worked in Software Engineering. Christopher is currently serving his second term as Town Justice for the Town of Waterloo. Christopher externed with a Cybersecurity firm in the Washington, D.C. area between his first and second year at SU College of Law. Full biography

Anna Maria Castillo

Anna Maria Castillois 2016 graduate of Syracuse College of Law. She also holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She has interned at a London-based think-tank that specializes in transnational terrorism and global security and at the legal department of a defense contractor. She served as an executive editor in the Syracuse Law Review. Full biography

Jennifer A. CamilloJennifer A. Camillo

is a 2015 graduate of Syracuse College of Law and is a prosecutor. She has served as a law clerk in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and the Cayuga County District Attorney’s Office and as an extern in the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office. She was a member of the Syracuse National Trial Team and was awarded the Tiffany Cup by the New York Bar Association for her trial advocacy achievements.

Tara J. PistoreseTara J. Pistorese

holds Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Administration degrees from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and its College of Law. She wrote for this blog when a student. She is now a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Benjamin Zaiser

is both a scholar and a Federal Agent of the Federal Criminal Police Office of Germany. (Opinions expressed here are his own and not any part of official duty.) Full biography


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