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article imageOp-Ed: With 'data about data' — Illegal is not illegal

By George Arthur     Feb 9, 2014 in Politics
If you’re a Canadian citizen who travels by airplane, there’s a good chance Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is spying on you (or has) in an illegal and ineffective manner.
Uncovered among the Snowden trove, the innocuously titled PowerPoint presentation by CSEC, “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts” outlines Canadian metadata surveillance techniques which operate out of an unspecified Canadian airport (or airports), and physically tracks citizens.
The capricious program works by capturing the MAC address (or Burnt-In Address) of an Internet capable device (a computer or smart phone, for example) when a person logs on to a publically available Wi-Fi network (which is operated by an unspecified provider that cooperates with CSEC). Once CSEC has the MAC address, they then follow that address as it connects to other Wi-Fi networks (interestingly, they can follow MAC address connections moving both forward and backward in time), thus tracking movement.
A few massive problems, though; and I mean massive. First of all, a MAC address can be changed – quite easily. Anyone with the slightest of technical knowledge (or with a serious desire to remain anonymous) will understand the importance of digital security in the age of the Internet, and among the first lessons of digital security are MAC spoofing and IP disguising by proxy, as these fundamentals provide a good basis for anonymity.
Simply by following the basics of Internet silence, any potential threats, or ‘needles’ (as CSEC defined them), would completely avoid the ‘haystack’, or disappear from it moments after landing in it. In this very practical sense, the program is an utter failure. To briefly return to the ‘needle in a haystack’ metaphor, there is a point that needs to be made.
The Harper government has recently claimed this invasive and unreliable program is legal for two main reasons: a) metadata is simply “data about data” and b) that such tactics allow for ‘needle in the haystack’ target identification in cases of criminal activity (i.e. as in the kidnapping case outlined in the CSEC PowerPoint). Metadata, though defined as ‘data about data’ is a word that is grossly misused. Metadata - as it relates to MAC address information for purposes of cross-referencing locations - is location tracking; it is not "data about data", it is data about where you are at any given time. Now remember that any potential ‘kidnappers’, or ‘needles’, or people with a desire to remain anonymous can easily avoid the program to begin with as you consider the tracking program.
Stephen Harper is head of the Conservative party in Canada  and the country s current Prime Minister...
Stephen Harper is head of the Conservative party in Canada, and the country's current Prime Minister, speaks to 3,000 Conservative delegates on November 1, 2013
TV Media Pool
And thus the ‘needle in the haystack’ is not a metaphor, but rather, another literary device; a red herring. A red herring is “something that distracts attention from the real issue”, and the root of the word comes “from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs”, that is, the attempt to willfully mislead by way of faulty metaphor. The ‘needle’ in the ‘haystack’ mentioned by CSEC will likely never be visible in the haystack of private data that they are capturing; the only people who will show up on the radar will be those completely detached from a need to be anonymous - people like you and me!
Not only is the program ineffective, it raises two giant questions; a) is the program legal? And b) is the actual task of espionage outsourced to a publicly traded, U.S. based firm in Virginia?
Although there are several articles in circulation that mention that the program is likely illegal due to violations of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there aren’t any (that I’ve found) which list potential violations. As such, here are few sections which ought to be cross-referenced with CSEC’s espionage program: Section 2 b) “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of press and other communication; Section 7, “the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right to not be deprived of except in accordance with the principals of fundamental justice”; Section 8, “the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure”; Section 15.1) the right to be “equal before and under the law and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination”; and Section 26, “the guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed as denying the existence of any other rights or freedoms that exist in Canada.”
Canadians do not have freedom of thought, communication, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, the right to equality under the law, nor a government that does not construe the rights and freedoms that exist in Canada in order to violate existing rights and freedoms so long as this program exists. This is hardly for debate.
Another critical question that arises relates to who exactly is conducting the MAC address locating. In the PowerPoint presentation, CSEC authors repeatedly mention Quova as the organization responsible for providing look-up services (it is mentioned on slides two and eight). A little research will show that Quova was bought by Virginia based information and analytics mega-firm Neustar in 2010.
Neustar was founded in 1996 and specializes in providing “real-time information (…) by offering data insights and intelligence for the Internet”. The corporation is led by former Viacom attorney and Time Warner Telecommunications Executive Vice President and C.O.O Lisa Hook, and focuses on three main areas of business: “Carrier Services, Enterprise Services and Information Services.”
That the CSEC PowerPoint was prepared in May 2012 – two years after Quova was bought by Neustar – raises questions in itself; were the authors woefully behind in their information, or were they trying to keep the connection between Canadian security operations and a publicly traded U.S. corporation as disconnected as possible
File photo: As a trial run for the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies  Canadian intelligenc...
File photo: As a trial run for the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies, Canadian intelligence collected data from Canadian travelers who passed through major airports and connected to Wifi services and could then be tracked for days, CBC reported.
Omar Torres, AFP/File
I lean toward the latter. It makes sense that people who officially collect the ‘data about data’ (that is, who track us) would not be those at CSEC, but rather a third party. Through this method, CSEC never does anything illegal; they merely purchase “data about data” from a third party that does the digging. The perversity of that cycle – if that is the case – is stomach turning; our tax dollars and democratic votes serve to empower a government which then uses our tax money to fund and employ a third-party, U.S. based firm so that it can conduct absurd, illegal and ineffective espionage programs on us, the voting and tax-paying public.
Although I think that metaphors often do an injustice to serious issues (like the needle in the haystack argument), there is a very accurate one that can be made here. In the application of this espionage program, CSEC and the government of Canada are treating Canadians and Canadian society as a cancer that needs chemotherapy. This surveillance system is just like chemotherapy; a method of remedy which has no ability to distinguish between the sick and the healthy cells (in this case, of society). As a result, the method treats the entire civic body as a cancer and invades all with equal prejudice. I suppose even this metaphor fails though, as with chemotherapy there is no way for the cancer to avoid the regime, and this is certainly not the case with the illegal, flawed and wasteful program that is currently spying on Canadians without warrant.
If you are concerned about this program, your best move is not to learn MAC Address spoofing or IP disguising by proxy; no, instead you should write your local politicians, get involved in community action, and above all, learn more about this program so that you are able to illustrate to friends and family that this program violates our supposedly inalienable Rights and Freedoms, while doing precious nothing to improve national security.
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
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