Whistleblower Edward Snowden's impact on Canada

By telling the world about the vast reach of America’s electronic spying, whistleblower Edward Snowden has rocked governments on at least four continents. Several of these leaks pertain directly to Canada.

Documents reveal how closely entwined CSEC and the U.S. National Security Agency are

A man uses his cellphone Edward Snowden answers questions on Twitter in January 2014. (Reuters)

By telling the world about the vast reach of America’s electronic spying, whistleblower Edward Snowden has rocked governments on at least four continents, and forced U.S. President Barack Obama to try to devise new privacy safeguards for National Security Agency operations.

From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden has continued to leak NSA documents that have given many people a deeper understanding of government spying efforts.  

According to an Angus Reid Global Survey in October 2013, seven in 10 Canadians support Snowden, and many of the documents that have been leaked pertain to Canada.

Among the main ones:

CSEC used Wi-Fi at airports to track Canadian travellers

Snowden documents obtained by CBC at the end of January 2014 reveal Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was able to obtain data from a Canadian airport Wi-Fi service and identify smartphones and other devices using the service over a two-week period. CSEC was able to track the devices for days after they left the terminal as part of what was said to be a test case for NSA and other intelligence partners.

CSEC’s job is to collect foreign intelligence by phone and internet traffic, but it is illegal to target anyone in Canada without a judicial warrant.

Canada set up spy posts at the request of the NSA

Documents sent to CBC in early December 2013 show CSEC set up hidden spying posts in about 20 countries in which it conducted espionage against trading partners at the request of the NSA.

"CSEC shares with the NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the U.S," states the document.

NSA spied on Canadian soil during G8 and G20 summits

Leaked NSA documents state Canada allowed the U.S. to conduct widespread surveillance in the country during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits. According to the documents, the U.S. turned its Ottawa embassy into an intelligence-gathering post during a six-day spying operation while U.S President Barack Obama and 25 other foreign officials were in the country.

Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who first published the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, testifies before a Brazilian congressional committee on Canada-NSA surveillance programs. (Reuters)

The documents do not reveal the targets of the espionage. The NSA document describes part of the U.S. eavesdropping agency’s mandate at the Toronto summit as “providing support to policymakers.”

Canada uses embassies to eavesdrop

Another NSA leak, published initially in the German magazine Der Spiegel, suggested that Canada uses eavesdropping technology in its embassies abroad. The document does not give the location of the listening posts. It says the equipment is often hidden “in false architectural features or roof maintenance sheds.”

Canada spied on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry

Brazil’s Globo Television reported in early October 2013 that NSA leaks show Canadian spies collected metadata of phone calls and emails to and from Brazil’s Mines and Energy Ministry.  

The Canadian government would neither confirm nor deny the allegations.