Two years after Snowden: the state of surveillance in Canada

Friday, June 05, 2015
2 reactions
Friday, June 5, 2015

By Sam Pinto June 5 marks the two-year anniversary of the first media leak of classified government documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The leaks have provided invaluable insight into the secretive world of government surveillance, including a hint of its broad scope in Canada. The revelations from the Snowden leaks since June 2013 have raised significant concerns and had a major impact on how the public views digital privacy, democratic governance and freedom of expression, and these debates will continue as new documents are brought to light. To enable a better understanding of state surveillance programs in the Five Eyes countries (Canada, U.S.A., U.K., Australia and New Zealand), CJFE launched the Snowden Archive, a complete collection of all leaked documents from Edward Snowden. This indexed and fully searchable tool offers access to citizens, researchers and journalists to these important documents, contributing to a greater appreciation of the intimate reach and profound implications of global surveillance practices.

Two years after the leaks began, the state of surveillance and privacy in Canada is grim

    • 1. In a live interview with CJFE, Snowden stated, “Canadian intelligence has one of the weakest oversight frameworks out of any Western intelligence agency in the world.” Intelligence agencies such as the CSE lack independent or parliamentary oversight, and almost no accountability measures are currently in place to ensure that these agencies are conducting their work within the boundaries of the law and our constitutionally protected rights.
    • 2. A recent report by the Telecom Transparency Project revealed how poorly Canada's surveillance practices protect Canadians’ personal information due to a lack of transparency and accountability. Telecommunications companies fail to report on the frequency and extent of their surveillance, and the government has extremely weak oversight over the telecom companies to ensure that the privacy of Canadians is protected.
    • 3. With the tabling of Bill C-51, the Canadian government will dramatically increase its ability to survey and censor Canadians. Edward Snowden has called Bill C-51 "an emulation of the American Patriot Act.” Such blanket surveillance policies, David Christopher of OpenMedia asserts, could cause the degradation of freedom of expression.
    • 4. On International Data Privacy Day (January 28, 2015), it was revealed that Canada’s Communications Securities Establishment has been running Levitation, a surveillance program that monitors documents being uploaded and downloaded on file-sharing websites. Despite a mandate to not target the communications of Canadians, the mass collection of data has swept up private online activities from Canadian IP addresses.

Canadians are now standing up for their rights to privacy and free expression

  • 1. The Snowden Archive, launched in March 2015, is the first complete collection of all the published documents leaked by Edward Snowden from June 2013 to today. The archive opens these documents to the public to allow citizens and researchers to further investigate the surveillance infrastructures that exist around the world and the effects they have on our rights. While many of the estimated 50,000 documents that Snowden turned over to journalists may never be published, the Snowden Archive continues to add documents as they are released.
  • 2. Canadians are deeply concerned about the government's online surveillance practices. In Canada's Privacy Plan by OpenMedia, crowdsourced data found that Canadians are not satisfied with the current government surveillance laws, and want to see drastic policy changes to address Canada’s privacy deficit and ensure the safety of their personal information.
  • 3. Since the revelations from the Snowden leaks, there has been a better understanding and stronger push for the use of encryption programs to limit the intrusion of intelligence agencies into the lives of citizens. New software and mobile apps allow for the new level of security Canadians demand when communicating by text, email and phone.
  • 4. CJFE’s annual poll shows that Canadians are better aware of surveillance and privacy issues, and they are demanding more government openness and oversight to secretive surveillance practices. They are also concerned about the widespread tracking of Canadian cellphone metadata. 2015 marks the year that Canadians took notice and stood up to protect their rights to privacy and free expression.



Sam Pinto is CJFE’s Outreach and Communications Assistant. Follow him on Twitter @SamPinto94.

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  • Don Phillipson
    commented 2017-02-24 16:40:45 -0500
    “Communications Securities Establishment . . . " ? confirms this agency is called the Communications Security Establishment Canada. CJFE proofreading standards may need to be higher to maintain credibility.