The Communications Security Establishment, CSA has joined the league of massive internet surveillance with its new program by the name Levitation. The new program is like the NSA surveillance system except that instead of looking at internet traffic it surveils downloads and uploads of pictures, videos and notes online.
At this point, you have probably heard of the NSA courtesy of leaks by Edward Snowden. Well, if you thought the NSA was our only concern, time is ripe for a change of mind. The Canadians, not to be outdone, have launched their own surveillance machinery.
The Levitation program is stretching its snooping eyes from Canada all the way to Asia through North Africa, Europe and a host of other regions in between.
According to the Canadian authorities, the program sifts through the internet looking for curious files which point to extremism. Extremism is a synonym for terrorism.
Now, those familiar with the term terrorism in the context of the internet and spying will know that terrorism has been a convenient excuse for governments the world over to violate privacy of internet users and even intrude on personal lives of users.
To illustrate this, consider that the Canadian report that their program yields just 350 suspicious files from the millions that are collected their program. This represents just 0.0001% of the data collected. the question the begs, what do the Canadian authorities do with what remains?
Canadian spokesman for an internet freedom group David Christopher said “These revelations make clear that CSE engages in large-scale surveillance of our private online activities, despite repeated government assurances to the contrary.” His sentiments are supported by other online privacy advocates and activists.
It has been identified that the Levitation dragnet focuses on peer-peer sharing sites. The dragnet also focuses on websites which allow users free downloads. When a suspicious download is flaged,the program traces the downloading IP address and can therefore get to the person on the other end.
While that is scandalous in itself, new reports suggesting that the Canadian authorities are tapping into internet cables and reading data for themselves is more alarming. Think of it like a person listening in on your communication as you download things. The implications of such activities if indeed verified could be very severe since the Canadian authorities clearly have no mandate to do that.
In its defense, the Canadian authorities said “CSE is legally authorized to collect and analyse metadata, including from parts of the Internet routinely used by terrorists. Some of CSE`s metadata analysis activities are designed to identify foreign terrorists who use the Internet to conduct activities that threaten the security of Canada and Canadian citizens. CSE does not direct its activities at Canadians or anyone in Canada, and, in accordance with our legislation, has a range of measures in place to protect the privacy of Canadians incidentally encountered in the course of these foreign intelligence operations.”
It is unlikely that that is the case, given the extent of the surveillance. In addition, the CSE cannot prove that its activities have helped prevent any terrorist attack. Simply put, the program has no tangible results, despite its massive scale of operation.
The actions of the Canadian government show that while surveillance might be highly criticized, governments are not about to stop.