Canada’s Bad Dream

By Andrew Clement, World Policy Journal, Fall 2014

TORONTO—Edward Snowden’s June 2013 leak has shone unprecedented light on the dark underside of Internet connectivity. So far, however, Canada has remained a victim largely hidden in the shadows.

Much of the debate over the National Security Agency (NSA) revelations has focused on U.S. domestic surveillance of individuals never under suspicion. But whatever modest legal protections Americans may enjoy, all those outside the United States are classified as foreigners and have no such protection.   And while we know most about the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations, the Snowden documents make very clear that with the aid of its allies—Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—the NSA has developed a globe-spanning surveillance infrastructure of remarkable scale and scope. Not surprisingly, the NSA has targeted countries regarded as “unfriendly” to American interests, such as China, Russia, and Iran, but the Agency has also been intercepting and analyzing the internal communications of countries generally regarded as “friendly” allies, such as Brazil, Denmark, Germany, France, India, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and many more. The aptly named Boundless Informant program reported that in one month alone, the NSA’s Global Access Unit collected data on over 97 billion emails and 124 billion phone calls from nearly every country.

Rarely mentioned in the Snowden documents is the targeting of Canadians. But for a variety of geographic and historical reasons, Canada is at the forefront of NSA mass surveillance and a potential bellwether in terms of responding technically and politically to the challenge of unfettered state surveillance. Given its long shared border and the pattern of Internet buildout in North America, much of Canada’s internal Internet traffic— domestic traffic that originates and terminates in Canada—is routed via the United States, where it is subject to the NSA’s domestic interception programs. Furthermore, the lack of international submarine fiber optic cables on Canada’s shores means that almost all of Canada’s third country Internet traffic is similarly routed through the United States and via NSA surveillance operations. (...)

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