Does the CSE Know Too Much About Us?

By | February 4, 2015 at 10:07 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , , ,

 Canada’s involvement in Five Eyes surveillance

With the recent revelation of the existence of LEVITATION by the CBC proving once and for all that Canada is not just a “junior partner” in Five Eyes cybersurveillance, but is deeply involved at all levels, we at PEN Canada have grown ever more concerned about the role the government plays in monitoring our digital lives. Because an election is coming this year, perhaps sooner rather than later, we feel that the time has come for straight talk from all who want the privilege of leading us, on an issue that is of paramount importance to all Canadians, whether they realize it or not.

At the moment, the government makes new rules about its cybersurveillance activity knowing full well that it faces no independent oversight if it breaks these rules.

How much information about Canadians is being collected by our government? How about by the foreign governments of Five Eyes (which includes the US, Australia, the UK, and New Zealand)? Where is this information being stored? Who has access to it? What safeguards are in place to assure us that it won’t be misused? Who should be the watchdog over the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) to ensure that the rules are being followed? Why do we not have the choice of opting out of this data collection without sacrificing our digital lives?

At the moment, the government gets to make new rules about its cybersurveillance activity knowing full well that it faces no independent oversight if it breaks these rules. Doesn’t that amount to carte blanche for those watching us, to do whatever they want? Aren’t we leaving the fox to guard the henhouse? We need a better watchdog than the current one, a government-appointed official whose sole function so far has been to say that everything is fine and no laws are being broken. Clearly, this is one job description that needs to be rewritten.

Canadians also deserve to know something else: there is significant evidence that mass cybersurveillance doesn’t work. The CBC reports: “Last year, a Washington-based non-profit analyzed 225 terrorism cases inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and found that bulk collection of phone records by NSA had ‘no discernible impact’ on preventing acts of terrorism.” LEVITATION counts only two clear successes—one the discovery of a German hostage video, the other a document outlining hostage-taking strategy. The German hostage died months after the video was discovered.

How can you express yourself freely if you’re worried about who might be listening?

 The Canadian government has been obfuscating, delaying, equivocating, and engaging in disingenuous semantics for long enough. At PEN, we are working to make cybersurveillance a campaign issue for the next federal election. We’ll be asking each party to state their positions in a frank and transparent manner by asking each party leader to clarify their stance on cybersurveillance in general, LEVITATION in particular, and the larger question of how to balance the need for security with our right to privacy and freedom of expression. We’ll publish the responses on our website, in hopes that Canadians will use what we find out to inform their decisions at the polls.

And in case you’re wondering what privacy has to do with freedom of expression, it’s very simple: How can you be expected to express yourself freely if you’re worried about who might be listening?

Stay tuned.

Featured image: Susan Melkisethiancreative commons. 

Related posts

Comments

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© PEN Canada 2013 · 425 Adelaide St. W, Suite 700, Toronto ON M5V 3C1 · Phone: 416 703 8448
· Charitable Business Number 88916 2541 RR0001