Citizen Four and the Canadian Surveillance Story


Citizen Four, Laura Poitras’ enormously important behind-the-scenes documentary film on Edward Snowden, won the Academy Award last night for best documentary. The film is truly a must-see for anyone concerned with privacy and surveillance. It not only provides a compelling reminder of the massive scale and scope of surveillance today, but it also exposes us to the human side of Snowden’s decision to leave his life behind in order to tell the world about secret surveillance activity.

Canada is not mentioned in the film, but that is not because we have been immune to similar surveillance activity. In the months since the Snowden revelations began, there have been many Canadian-related stories including reports on G8/G20 spying, industrial spying in Brazil, the “airport wifi” surveillance program, and the massive Internet download surveillance program.

Moreover, Canada helps tap into undersea Internet cables and it actively works with the NSA and other signals intelligence agencies as part of the “five eyes” group. With limited Internet exchange points, a significant portion of our domestic Internet traffic enters the United States and is therefore subject to U.S. surveillance. Virtually everyone uses U.S. based Internet services such as Google and Facebook and the metadata programs in the U.S. would appear to exist here too.

Yet despite the steady stream of revelations, the government dismisses the importance of metadata and characterizes oversight as “red tape”. Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism bill, would make matters far worse given the massive expansion of government sharing of information. The inclusion of CSE, Canada’s NSA counterpart, suggests that CSE information could be readily shared across government departments despite repeated claims that its work does not target Canadians. As I noted last week, the bill also permits additional use and disclosure of information “in accordance with the law…to any person, for any purpose.” Section 6 states:

For greater certainty, nothing in this Act prevents a head, or their delegate, who receives information under subsection 5(1) from, in accordance with the law, using that information, or further disclosing it to any person, for any purpose.

Disclosure to any person for any purpose. The Snowden story is our story.

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