#CyberFLASH: National electronic intelligence agency executive calls for ‘rational debate’ on encryption

cse-headquarters-file-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x722OTTAWA–Canadians are being encouraged to ask more questions about the security of their electronic devices from an unlikely source — an executive at the country’s electronic intelligence agency.

Scott Jones, the deputy director of IT security at the Communications Security Establishment, said Canadians need to start taking a greater interest in how their electronic devices protect personal information.

“We should be asking when we go and buy the stuff we have at home, OK, tell me how it’s being protected,” Jones said in an interview.

“If it’s my cellphone, does it have encryption if I lose it? Can somebody just read the data off of it or not? We need to start asking questions like that … We need to start helping each other, and helping citizens, helping businesses, helping the government when we’re buying these products they need to be secure by default.”

It may come as a bit of a surprise to hear an employee at CSE counselling Canadians to protect private information. The agency, which has largely operated in secret since its creation at the end of the Second World War, was thrust into the spotlight after U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures.

CSE is part of the Five Eyes security alliance, which includes spy agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Snowden’s disclosures revealed the mass surveillance programs used by those countries, including programs that scooped up their own citizens’ data.

Jones’ comments also come as law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada are forcefully arguing for the need to limit encryption — calling for so-called “back doors” that would let authorities decode citizens’ data.

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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: How Canada Can End Mass Surveillance

c51protest610pxJust two short years ago, if you asked strangers on the street about mass surveillance, you’d likely encounter many blank stares.

Some would remember East Germany’s Stasi spy agency, or reference China’s extensive Internet censorship. But few would express fear that western democratic governments like the U.S., Britain, and Canada were engaged in the mass surveillance of law-abiding citizens.

That all changed in June 2013 when Edward Snowden, a contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), blew the whistle on the spying activities of the NSA and its Five Eyes partners in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. Since then, we’ve seen a long stream of revelations about how Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is engaged in extensive spying on private online activities.

To give just a few examples, we learned that CSE spied on law-abiding Canadians using the free Wi-Fi at Pearson airport, and monitored their movements for weeks afterward. We learned that CSE is monitoring an astonishing 15 million file downloads a day, with Canadian Internet addresses among the targets.

Even emails Canadians send to the government or their local MP are monitored — up to 400,000 a day according to CBC News. Just last week we discovered CSE targets widely-used mobile web browsers and app stores. Many of these activities are not authorized by a judge, but by secret ministerial directives like the ones MP Peter MacKay signed in 2011.

CSE is not the only part of the government engaged in mass surveillance. Late last year, the feds sought contractors to build a new monitoring system that will collect and analyze what Canadians say on Facebook and other social media sites. As a result, the fear of getting caught in the government’s dragnet surveillance is one more and more Canadians may soon face.

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#CyberFLASH: The case for “total surveillance”

hi-bc-archive-surveillance-camerasLast week the federal government tabled a new anti-terrorism bill known as the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act. The new bill is supposed to help government agencies make better use of the data they gather so they can catch more potential terrorists.

Most of the criticism of the bill has centred on questions of the liberty and privacy of Canadians. A recent CBC investigations suggests the government is already digging deep into Canadian data in search of crime and conspiracy. With Canadians spending so much time voluntarily sharing their lives online, there’s a lot of raw material, which adds to a growing anxiety that Big Brother really is watching us.

But is that such a bad thing?

Stuart Armstrong was born in Canada, but now lives in the United Kingdom, largely considered one of the most surveilled countries on earth. As Research Fellow in the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University’s Oxford Martin School, Armstrong says we need to consider the possibility that mass surveillance is good for us.

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