Geist: Canada Complicit in Undermining Internet Privacy

InsightaaS: Michael Geist, leading Canadian expert on communications policy and privacy legislation, is known nationally as a staunch defender of Canadian digital rights, and as a proponent of wireless competition. In this post, he steps beyond these subjects: he reports that the Canadian government worked with the U.S. government to assist the U.S. NSA in cracking encryption technologies, and in so doing, may "have played a key role in facilitating one of the most significant incursions into the Internet privacy."

As the tidal wave of disclosures on widespread U.S. surveillance continues - there is now little doubt that the U.S. government has spent billions creating a surveillance infrastructure that covers virtually all Internet and wireless communications - the question of Canada’s role in these initiatives remains largely shrouded in secrecy.

The Canadian government has said little, but numerous reports suggest that agencies such as the Communications Security Establishment Canada (the CSE is the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. National Security Agency) are engaged in similar kinds of surveillance. This includes capturing metadata of Internet and wireless communications and working actively with foreign intelligence agencies to swap information obtained through the data mining of Internet-based surveillance.

My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes the active connection between Canadian and U.S. officials moved to the forefront last week with reports that Canadian officials may have played a starring role in facilitating U.S. efforts to create a "backdoor" to widely used encryption standards. That initiative has been described as "undermining the very fabric of the Internet."

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