#CyberFLASH: State has virtually unfettered access to eavesdrop on you

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The question is no longer whether Big Brother is watching us. The question is how many of his sibling state agencies are covertly tuning into our private communications?

News last week that the RCMP and CSIS are apparently using a covert device to track cellphone users without judicial oversight came and went quietly. Is this a sign that Canadians have become used to living in a post-privacy woerld? Or that we are so fatigued by continuous revelations about state intrusions that we lack the energy to react?

Whatever the case, the upshot is that we have quietly acceded to a profound change in human communication patterns, one that has reaped the state an informational bonanza. Unless we engage in a national debate — and soon — the end of privacy may be upon us.

Just over 40 years ago Parliament gave us a rigorous wiretap law; elaborate mechanisms that live on as a legacy of an era when personal privacy was a prized civil liberty.

Digital data surveillance, in contrast, is an open plain of unrestrained opportunity for official snoopers. The state has virtually unfettered access to eavesdrop or read every single personal communication with no mechanism for accountability.

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#CyberFLASH: The covert cellphone tracking tech the RCMP and CSIS won’t talk about

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Law enforcement and intelligence agencies in Canada won’t say whether they use covert tools called International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers to track the location of mobile phones and devices – even as the extent of their use by U.S. government agencies is raising serious questions among civil libertarians.

The devices colloquially known as Stingrays – which is the trademarked name for a widely used model sold by Florida-based Harris Corp. – commonly work by masquerading as a legitimate cellular communications tower and tricking nearby devices into connecting and sharing your phone’s IMSI (a unique identifier tied to every mobile device), typically without the knowledge of device owners.

Once connected, an operator can collect identifying information on all connected devices in a geographic area, or home in on the location of a specific device. In certain circumstances, it can even intercept phone calls and text messages.

The RCMP, in response to inquiries by journalists, has refused to confirm or deny whether Stingrays or other IMSI catchers have been used. RCMP spokesperson David Falls said the agency “[does] not release information pertaining to capabilities/tools as that can have an impact on our investigations.”

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#CyberFLASH: Govt tries to shut down debate on Online Spying Bill

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The government looks likely to shut down debate on its controversial Online Spying Bill C-13, which MPs are scheduled to discuss later today. The move comes after tens of thousands have spoken out on a pro-privacy petition organized by OpenMedia.ca and a huge nationwide 50 organization Protect our Privacy coalition. If the government succeeds, this could be the last day of 2nd Reading debate on the bill, which is being driven forward by Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

Bill C-13 sparked immediate controversy after experts revealed how over 60 pages of the bill were lifted from Vic Toews’ failed online spying Bill C-30, which the government was forced to withdraw after Canadians spoke out against it. Experts say that Bill C-13 would give a wide range of authorities access to the private lives of law-abiding Canadians. The bill grants legal immunity to telecom providers who hand over Canadians’ private information without a warrant, as has already happenedover 18,000 times in the case of just a single government agency last year.

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How the Canadian government can spy on your online activities

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One cyber-law expert says Canadians should think about what they do online, as the government could be making notes.

“The problem is we don’t really know what they’re up to because they won’t tell anyone,” says Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor.

Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a government agency that acts as a cyber counter-terrorism unit, has come under scrutiny following headlines about Edward Snowden — an IT specialist working for the CIA.

Reports about governments collecting information on their own citizens surfaced after Snowden, who worked in the counter-terrorism department of the CIA, leaked an e-mail showing the U.S. government wanted Verizon to turn over information about calls made by customers between the months of April and May of this year.

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Tories deny Canadian spy agencies are targeting Canadians

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OTTAWA—The Conservative government flatly denies Canadian spy agencies are conducting any unauthorized electronic snooping operations.

After facing questions from the NDP Opposition about how far he has authorized Ottawa’s top secret eavesdropping spy agency to go, a terse Conservative Defence Minister Peter MacKay left the Commons, telling the Star: “We don’t target Canadians, okay.”

A former Liberal solicitor general says that doesn’t mean other allied spy agencies don’t collect information on Canadians and share it with the Canadian spying establishment.

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