Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kline on reining in the Surveillance State

National Post writer Jesse Kline calls for greater transparency and public control over the Surveillance State ("The spy who read my email," National Post, 12 December 2013):
There’s no question that we’re doing a lot more spying than ever before. What Canadians don’t know is whether the $1-billion-plus price tag for our spy agencies is money well spent. Are these agencies keeping us safe, or have we built up a top-secret surveillance apparatus that has nothing better to do than spy on our allies and collect personal information on everyone who uses the Internet? Without a greater degree of transparency, the citizens of this democracy are unable to have an informed debate about what types of activities these agencies should be involved in. ...

The level of detail governments can obtain about the lives of ordinary people is unprecedented in human history. Where the Internet was once seen as the great liberator — a place where anyone could speak their minds, free from the control of autocratic governments and mass-media gatekeepers — it now has the potential to become, in the words of journalist Glenn Greenwald, “the most effective means of human control and oppression ever known.”

That is what the Snowden leaks have exposed — a massive government operation to archive and analyze all the world’s communications. Opposing the surveillance state, and demanding the right as free citizens to know what our government is doing, is not a left- or a right-wing issue; it is one of tyranny versus liberty; it’s about whether we want to live in a communist-style surveillance state, or enjoy the rights and privileges of a free society.
Kline also notes the recent allegations that CSEC spying on the G8/G20 summits in Canada may have been illegal:
So what to make of the report that CSEC worked with the NSA to conduct surveillance operations during the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., and the G20 in Toronto? Much of the document obtained, and subsequently released, by the CBC, details how the American intelligence operation intended to protect against potential threats. This is what we should expect spy agencies to do at large international events that host the U.S. President, the Canadian Prime Minister and other foreign leaders.

The more worrying passages discuss how NSA support could be used to “further U.S. policy goals” — i.e., spy on other countries to gain a leg-up in negotiations — and work “closely” with its “Canadian partner.” The latter is troubling because it may, in fact, be illegal.

“If CSEC tasked NSA to conduct spying activities on Canadians within Canada that CSEC itself was not authorized to take, then I am comfortable saying that would be an unlawful undertaking by CSEC,” University of Ottawa security expert Craig Forcese told the CBC. Even CSEC Chief John Forster and Defence Minister Rob Nicholson confirmed the agency is not allowed to spy on Canadian soil, or to ask foreign spy agencies to do so.
It's hard not to conclude that if CSEC and NSA did spy on the G8/G20 summit, they must have done so illegally. But in fact such a conclusion would almost certainly be incorrect.

Why? Ironically, it's because you can't trust anything that Forster, Nicholson, and their ilk appear to say. Virtually everything they tell us comes with a secret asterisk attached.

Yes, it's illegal for CSEC to spy on Canadian soil — except under those circumstances when it's legal for it to do so. Such as when CSIS has obtained a warrant to do so under s.16 of the CSIS Act and brings CSEC in under paragraph 273.64(1)(c) of the National Defence Act. Forcese's comment seems pretty damning at first glance, but it applies only to those circumstances where CSEC itself is not authorized to act. It is discussed in that wider context here.

Bottom line on the G8/G20 spying question: Don't trust what the government tells you — they almost certainly were acting legally.


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