#CyberFLASH: How much do we really know about the Canadian intelligence community?

csis.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxLast year American whistle-blower Edward Snowden proclaimed that Canadian intelligence agencies have the “weakest oversight” in the Western world and compared the Canadian government’s Bill C-51 to George W. Bush’s post-9-11 U.S. Patriot Act.

Canada became a surveillance state under the Stephen Harper Conservatives. In 2014, for example, it came to light that the Government Operations Centre was monitoring residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, including Indigenous Peoples, residents of the Island’s west coast who opposed fracking, and fishermen who were protesting shrimp quotas. This ongoing problem is further complicated by multiple transnational intelligence sharing agreements, in place since World War II, that remain largely unknown to the general public.

Indeed, the rise of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon that cannot be separated from the rise of the internet. But in Canada, because of the lack of any credible oversight, it has played out in a very specific way. This has everything to do with what the Canadian public knows—and more importantly, does not know—about Canadian intelligence agencies.

Canada’s new and highly invasive so-called anti-terror legislation came into force last year with the support of then-Opposition Leader Justin Trudeau and the Liberal caucus. The Trudeau Liberals knew that in order to win the election they would need to undo—or at least promise to undo—much of the damage done by their predecessors. They would have to address the alienation felt by Canadians from having a government that used national security as an excuse to trade away its citizens’ freedom and civil liberties.

Unfortunately, they have yet to repeal or even reform Bill C-51, and recent terrorist attacks in Europe, the U.S, and here at home in Canada have provided the perfect backdrop against which to further delay the process. On August 10, for example Aaron Driver, a 24-year-old Canadian citizen who was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack in the southern Ontario town of Strathroy, died in a confrontation with police who were following up on a tip from the FBI.

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#CyberFLASH: What Aaron Driver means for the debate on amending Bill C-51

rcmp-terror-20160811The case of Aaron Driver, the ISIS sympathizer who was killed in Strathroy, Ont., on Wednesday, comes to the fore amid the outstanding question of federal anti-terror laws and the fate of Bill C-51, the former Conservative government’s controversial legislation of last year.

And on Thursday, the Conservatives spoke of both in nearly the same breath.

“I salute and thank the law enforcement and intelligence officers who put their own lives on the line to stop this potential attack on innocent Canadians,” interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said in a statement distributed on Thursday morning.

“Unfortunately, the Liberal government campaigned on a promise to strip these officers of some of the essential investigative and enforcement tools to do this work, which the previous Conservative government provided through Bill C-51, and which have already been wisely used to disrupt terrorist activities nearly two dozen times since last fall. I call on the Liberal government to ensure all of Canada’s security and intelligence services keep the tools they need to do their jobs.”

On a very basic level, Driver’s fate might well factor into the general debate: a case of suspected terrorism informing a debate about how the law should be used to respond to the threat of terrorism. “This disturbing event serves to remind us that Canada is not immune to the threat of terrorism,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Thursday.

But on the particulars, it is unclear what precisely Driver’s case might have to do with C-51.

Liberal commitment to rewrite C-51

In bestowing new powers on law enforcement and national security agencies, C-51 raised various concerns about civil liberties.

In opposition at the time, the Liberals support the bill’s passage, but vowed they would amend the legislation if they were to form government.

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#CyberFLASH: Fixing Canada’s National Security Framework

parliament-hill-2012-jon-fingas-flickrBefore Standing Committees of both the House of Commons and the Senate last week, I described the federal government’s agenda in the weeks ahead on national security. Two critical imperatives, which must be accomplished in lock-step together, are woven through all of our security initiatives.

First, we need to be effective in keeping Canadians safe. And simultaneously, we need to safeguard Canadian values, our rights and freedoms, and the open, generous, inclusive character of our country — in short, the very qualities that make Canada, Canada.

We cannot enjoy our individual rights and freedoms without effective collective security, but we must achieve that collective security in ways that do not impair the very essence of that which we seek to protect.

Built by diversity and stronger because of it, Canada is fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation. The Aga Khan has described Canada as the finest expression of pluralism the world has ever known. But we are not immune to tragedy, as demonstrated by the horrible events in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa in October of 2014 (and elsewhere on other occasions too).

So how should we respond? One thing is clear — Canadians want thoughtful, inclusive consultation and dialogue. Not fear mongering. And not naivete. The public wants to be honestly informed and sincerely engaged.

There was a unique moment in the painful aftermath of the October, 2014 events when Canadians could have been gathered in common cause to find that delicate intersection between collective security and individual rights. The whole country shared in the grief of those sorry days. We leaned on each other, on all sides. There was a clear sense that laws and procedures had to be strengthened. There was palpable will to try very hard to get it right, and to do it together.

Unfortunately, the government of the day chose to proceed unilaterally. That extraordinary moment of potential collaboration evaporated. And new legislation which many Canadians found seriously defective (Bill C-51) was the result.

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#CyberFLASH: Opinion: Big Data, surveillance and Privacy 2.0 after Snowden – Is B.C. on the right track?

sweden-rights-espionage-diplomacy-computers-filesEdward Snowden’s analysis of the largest leak yet — the Panama papers — did what Shane Pointe of the Musqueam Nation intended: lift up the heart and minds of very brave truthtellers. While Snowden’s public conversation terrified many, he also pointed the way to hope in the era of Big Data and the Internet of Things.

When talking about Big Data and Surveillance, focus on the information and knowledge that comes from the data, and the power matrix in which that unfolds. That is the real message from the Snowden event held in Vancouver last Tuesday. Value can be positive or negative: information, knowledge and understanding can be used for good or bad purposes. To make Big Data constructive, we need more than just the technological advances and industrial developments — the key component is keeping sight of the rights to human privacy and personal security.

Advances in Big Data offer huge potential benefits and risks when we bring different data resources together. New machine learning algorithms with massive computational resources are incredible, but they need to be mediated by people who know how to ethically use the new technology and how to derive value from it — and who, as Snowden says, know when to blow the whistle when the public interest is abused.

B.C. is at the forefront of this Big Data wave. At SFU, we have a competitive advantage with our Big Data and Data Science training programs, plus we work with other institutions on other research and training initiatives such as those provided by the Vancouver Institute for Visual Analytics. The Metro Vancouver corporate sector is equally invested. A growing number of companies located in B.C. such as Tableau, Amazon, Global Relay, Phemi, SImba, and Splunk provide cutting edge Big Data-related products and services.

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#CyberFLASH: Canadians aren’t up for mass surveillance

mobile-securityWhen Ralph Goodale and David McGuinty headed to the UK and France last January to get ideas about overseeing national security issues in Canada, it seemed like an intelligent thing to do.

But did our public safety minister and his MP colleague go to the wrong place?

The Liberals, after all, are trying to amend Bill C-51, a controversial piece of anti-terrorism legislation that Canadians don’t like. No wonder. What’s to like about a government—sanctioned police state law?

Under Harper-era legislation, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was empowered to operate outside the Charter of Rights, which gave it authority to violate citizens’ constitutional rights. And Canada’s cyber intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) was allowed to conduct mass collection of information on Canadians without a specific target.

Based on their attitudes towards mass surveillance, Britain and France are hardly the countries to help Canada rein in the excesses of Bill C-51.

According to a YouGov survey of 15,000 people reported this week by Amnesty International, citizens of Britain, France and the Philippines were most comfortable with government eavesdropping. Britain was one of three countries out of 13 surveyed where more people favoured surveillance of all people — British citizens, foreigners, and foreign countries, than favoured monitoring none of them.

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#CyberFLASH: CSE can assist in ‘threat reduction’ without a warrant, documents show

csis.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxOTTAWA—Canada’s electronic spies can assist CSIS with the agency’s new mandate to disrupt security threats with little oversight from politicians or the courts, documents obtained by the Star show.

The Communications Security Establishment told Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last November they can aid CSIS with new “threat reduction” efforts — a power granted to the agency under Bill C-51.

It’s not unusual for CSE to lend a hand to police or intelligence agencies; in addition to electronic espionage and cyber defence, assistance to law enforcement is one of the agency’s core mandates. But that assistance often requires a warrant.

But under C-51, CSIS can take action to reduce threats to national security without a warrant — so long as the agency’s efforts don’t violate Canadian law or charter rights. CSE confirmed that they do not necessarily need a court’s approval to assist CSIS in threat reduction.

The new power has opened the door for CSE to act as a “virtuous hacker” for CSIS, according to national security researcher Craig Forcese.

“This was the sleeper in C-51, because CSE is barely mentioned in C-51,” said Forcese, a vocal critic of the new terrorism law.

“CSE has been a watcher . . . . It has not been able to do things kinetically to people. But under the umbrella of CSIS assistance, it can now go kinetic.”

The power to reduce or “disrupt” threats to Canada’s national security was one of the most controversial aspects of the previous Conservative government’s anti-terrorism law.

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#CyberFLASH: Awareness campaign and challenge to Canadian “security” bill C-51

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It’s known more commonly as “the anti-terrorism act” and was passed into law last year by the former Conservative government.

Bill C-51’s official, long and complicated name is, “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”.

The group, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has launched a publicity campaign called “#my privacy campaign” and along with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) has also launched a legal challenge saying the law contravenes aspects of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The public awareness campaign is to push the current Liberal government to follow up on their election promise to repeal what they deem the “problematic elements” of the bill, and the government’s recently announced intention to hold a broad consultation process.

Bill C-51, now law, was inspired by several indirect threats and two high-profile killings of soldiers in Canada in 2014, labelled jihadist-inspired terrorist actions.

In one, a man used his car to run down two soldiers, killing one. He was chased by police and when his car crashed, police shot him as he approached carrying a knife. In the other, a lone gunman shot a soldier on honourary guard duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before running across the street to the Parliament buildings where a shootout occurred and that gunman killed.

The former Conservative government then proposed the omnibus bill as a way to increase Canadian security.

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#CyberFLASH: The Year in Tech Law and Digital Brouhaha, from A to Z

tablet610pxWith new trade agreements, a new government, new court cases, and new rules governing the Internet, law and technology issues garnered headlines all year long. A look back at 2015 from A to Z:

A is for the Ashley Madison data breach, which affected millions of people and placed the spotlight on online privacy.

B is for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, which became a flashpoint political issue on striking the right balance between surveillance and civil liberties.

C is for CBC v. SODRAC, a Supreme Court of Canada decision released in November that reinforced the significance of technological neutrality in copyright. The court sided with SODRAC, a copyright collective, on the need for payment for certain uses of music but ruled that an earlier rate-setting exercise had failed to account for the technological neutrality principle.

D is for Dot-Sucks, one of hundreds of new top-level domains that launched in 2015. The new domains generally failed to garner significant market share, though they created a host of new legal and policy concerns.

E is for Equustek Solutions, a B.C.-based company that succeeded in obtaining a court order requiring Google to remove search results from its global index.

F is for Facebook, which won a B.C. Court of Appeal decision to stop a class action lawsuit over its now defunct Sponsored Stories service. The court ruled that the social media giant’s terms and conditions trumped the provincial privacy laws.

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