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article imageOp-Ed: Canadian border guards ask info from telecoms 19,000 times a year

By Ken Hanly     Mar 27, 2014 in Politics
Ottawa - In just one year Canadian border guards asked telecommunication companies for information about customers almost 19,000 times. In most cases the information was handed over without leaving behind any paper trail to trace what was given.
Statistics about these transactions between the government and telecommunication corporations are almost never made public. However, the Canada Border Service Agency broke rank and released some information on its requests. It said that over 99 percent of the requests were for basic subscriber information(BSI). These records would reveal who controlled a cellphone or Internet account. While this information is not necessarily public it does not require a warrant to obtain.
Although these disclosures raise privacy concerns the telecoms seem to have adapted to receiving huge numbers of requests and almost always approving them. Of the 19,000 requests received in 2012 only 25 were refused and only 13 customers were actually notified that the government was snooping on them. The companies charge from one to three dollars to carry out each BSI request.
Every other federal agency refused to provide details of their relationships with telecoms. The material from the border agency was in a package released by the federal government two months after New Democratic Party MP Charmaine Borg demanded that federal agencies provide statistics about their dealings with telecom companies.
The Federal government of Stephen Harper intends to pass a bill that will formalize this process by which telecoms hand over data to the government. At the same time it would protect the telecoms from any lawsuits or criminal charges that might result when they hand over too much information.
Christopher Parsons at the University of Toronto Citizen Lab wonders what other structures and costs might be in place and pointed out that neither the Royal Canadian Mounted Police nor Canadian Intelligence Agencies release data.
The Communications Security Establishment Canada(CSEC) has come under increasing scrutiny and suspicion of late. An investigation by the CSEC after complaints by a whistle-blower "uncovered misuse of public assets and "serious breaches" of CSEC's values and ethics code." However no details at all have been released about what happened. CSEC monitors various types of foreign telecommunications traffic including computer, satellite, radio and telephone traffic of people, countries, organizations and terrorist cells in order to provide information of interest to the government. The CSEC is not supposed to spy on Canadians but the CSEC is one of the group of Five Eyes that includes the U.S. Canada, Australia, and the UK. These countries share their intelligence and are responsible for developing the ECHELON network:The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden described the Five Eyes as a "supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the laws of its own countries".[6] Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been intentionally spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on spying.[7][8] All the fuss about national agencies not spying on its own citizens is completely misplaced given that these organizations share intelligence data among themselves.
According to documents released by Snowden CSEC broke into the WiFi service of a major Canadian airport. They were then able to access communications of travelers and even track them far beyond the airport. They apparently spied on wireless devices of many innocent Canadians. The government has dismissed the charges against the agency.
For almost two decades now one of the conditions for obtaining a licence to use wireless spectrum is to provide the government with the capability to bug any devices that use the spectrum. The government also demands that the telecommunications company scramble any encryption so that it can be accessed by law enforcement agencies. Unless these back door provisions are removed we cannot expect any type of privacy for our communications encrypted or not.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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