Publications have revealed US surveillance programs that involved large intercepts of electronic and phone communication data. The Guardian describes the most noteworthy of these, dubbed “PRISM,” as permitting intelligence authorities to collect information such as browsing history, e-mail information, data transfer, and chatrooms.
These revelations have fueled speculation about whether Canada has similar eavesdropping techniques. This question cannot be answered because such programs are, by nature, classified. It is, nevertheless, important to understand the legislative framework within which internal security surveillance occurs in Canada.
First and foremost, we shall discuss CSEC. According to the law, CSEC’s duty includes gathering and exploiting information from the network for the purpose of supplying foreign intelligence and assisting federal authorities in the fulfillment of their authorized tasks. In other words, CSEC is intended to be used to spy on people.
Don’t get caught up in the phrase “foreign intelligence.” Even “foreign intelligence” may still have a Canadian link in a world where telecommunications systems are intertwined. Even if CSEC’s guidelines require that its intelligence-gathering activities should not target Canadians, matching this expectation with the actuality of web-based communication can be difficult.
Furthermore, CSEC may aid CSIS or the RCMP in eavesdropping on conversations. Given the jurisdiction of the later organizations, these conversations would almost certainly include Canadians or discussions within Canada.
So, could Canada implement a PRISM-style intercept program? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. CSEC could acquire comparable communications traveling via Canadian internet services with ministerial permission.