Home / CSEC Wi-Fi snooping experiment prompts calls for review

CSEC Wi-Fi snooping experiment prompts calls for review

By CBC News/cbc.ca

A B.C. MP is calling for an independent review of the activities of Canada’s electronic spy agency, after CBC News revealed this week that the agency conducted an experiment tracking internet users who logged in through wireless access points at Canadian airports.

Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray, the Liberal Critic for National Defence, said the Vancouver and Toronto Airport Authorities should investigate the alleged security breaches that allowed the information of airport Wi-Fi users to be harvested en masse.

“This agency is out of control,” Murray said in a written statement Friday.

‘What they are doing is a violation of Canadian law, and it is unacceptable that the minister of national defence downplayed this violation.’– Vancouver Quadra MP Joyce Murray

“Like most Canadians, I was shocked to learn that Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) has been monitoring the internet traffic of unsuspecting, law-abiding Canadian travellers at the Vancouver and Toronto airports,” Murray said.

Murray also said that all domestic surveillance must cease, immediately.

“Domestic spying is clearly not permitted under CSEC’s mandate. What they are doing is a violation of Canadian law, and it is unacceptable that the Minister of National Defence downplayed this violation,” she said.

A man is seen using his smartphone in a lounge at Vancouver International Airport. Documents obtained by CBC News indicate that Canadian spy agency CSEC tapped into the free Wi-Fi service at one or more major Canadian airports. (CBC)

A 2012 document leaked by Edward Snowden — titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts” — indicates that Canada’s spy service was provided with information captured from unsuspecting travellers’ wireless devices by the airport’s free Wi-Fi system over a two-week period.

The document shows the federal intelligence agency was then able to track the travellers for a week or more as their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports.

The document also described how CSEC had so much data it could even track the travellers back in time through the days leading up to their arrival at the airport.

Representatives with the Vancouver International Airport and with Boingo, which supplies Wi-Fi services at other Canadian airports, including Toronto Pearson, have denied supplying Wi-Fi traffic information to CSEC.

Watchdog lawsuit gathering evidence

CSEC’s experiment to track the comings and goings of cellphone-carrying travelers was apparently part of a trial run to see how wide an electronic net could be cast. (CBC)

A B.C. privacy watchdog hopes the new revelations about CSEC’s activities will help strengthen its court case against the security giant.

In October, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed a lawsuit against CSEC, claiming its activities violated Canadians’ charter rights by intercepting private communications and by conducting a sweeping collection of communications metadata.

Lawyer Caily DiPuma, speaking for the BCCLA, said the leaked document outlining the Wi-Fi interception and tracking experiment is an “appalling” example of the type of spying her group is concerned with.

​”This is the kind of indiscriminate dragnet spying that we’ve been concerned about since these Snowden revelations started happening, about six months ago,” she said.

DiPuma said not only is the BCCLA concerned about the alleged secret spying activities, but it is also “deeply concerning” that CSEC appears to be operating without parliamentary or judicial oversight.

‘This is really, compared to the U.S., even a worse situation in terms of the accountability and oversight for what CSEC is doing.’– BCCLA lawyer Caily DiPuma

“There is no parliamentary committee that’s watching what CSEC is doing, there’s no judge authorizing any of these types of collections. This is really, compared to the U.S., even a worse situation in terms of the accountability and oversight for what CSEC is doing,” she said.

The BCCLA has argued in its lawsuit that CSEC’s sweeping data-collection activities infringe on Charter rights that guarantee free expression and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

“This kind of information, when it’s collected, can tell the government all sorts of things about yourself: intimate details of your personal life, your relationship to other people, your religious affiliation, your sexual orientation, where you are at any given time,” DiPuma said. “That is unacceptable and it’s unconstitutional.”

The federal government has filed a response to the civil claim.

The suit is now in the pre-trial phase of discovery, with both sides gathering evidence.

CSEC, which says it reports to the minister of defence, describes itself as “Canada’s national cryptologic agency.”

CSEC says it supplies two main services: foreign signals intelligence, which means monitoring electronic communications emanating from abroad, and protecting domestic electronic information and communication.