CSEC and Canada's top spies scheduled to answer questions before Senate defence committee
On February 3, the public will have a rare opportunity to learn a little about spying activities conducted by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC).
John Forster, the chief of Canada’s version of the NSA, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on National Defence and Security.
Michel Coulombe, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) is also listed as a witness for the meeting, as is Stephen Rigby, national security advisor to the Prime Minister.
The session is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. EST and will be broadcast live on PTN and online at the website of the Parliament of Canada.
It will come just four days after CBC News reported that CSEC used airport Wi-Fi networks to track the electronic devices of thousands airline passengers, many of whom it can be presumed were Canadian citizens.
David Christopher, communications manager at OpenMedia.ca, described those revelations as the “most significant” in a long line of disclosures made by former U.S. security contractor Edward Snowden.
“For months, we’ve been hearing from the government that CSEC doesn’t spy on Canadians, and now we know that isn’t true,” Christopher told the Straight. “They’ve been monitoring the communications data of thousands of Canadians who used public Wi-Fi at major airports, and actually going so far as to track those people’s locations over the weeks after that.”
Christopher noted that there’s a seemingly growing list of revelations on which the public deserves answers. Among them, he listed an October 2013 report about CSEC spying in Brazil, news the following month that Stephen Harper's government allowed the U.S. to spy on G20 partners in Canada for a summit, and a December 2013 report about CSEC assisting U.S. spy operations around the world.
“Government or whoever is representing that perspective usually just hides behind the phrase that they’re not tracking the communications of Canadians,” Christopher said. “But in the light of what we learned yesterday [January 30] and the last 24 hours, it will be really interesting to see how that gets played.”
He noted that among the nine Senate members sitting on the National Defence and Security Committee is deputy chair Roméo Dallaire, who in the past has criticized government spying for a lack of oversight.
“Hopefully, this Senate hearing on Monday will shed great light on all of this,” Christopher said. “But to be honest, the government stonewalls so much that I’ll almost be surprised if that is the case.”
On February 11, OpenMedia.ca is joining a number of high-profile tech organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Reddit to host events across North America that aim to raise awareness about mass domestic surveillance.
“We’re seeing a steady stream of these and with every new story that comes out, pressure is building and more and more Canadians are saying that this is just ridiculous,” Christopher said.