Does Canada Secretly Spy on Airport Travelers?

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airport travelers spied uponThe trickle of documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden continues to illustrate how our governments are secretly tracking us without our knowledge or content.

This time, though, it’s not the United States, but Canadian authorities that are allegedly doing the tracking.

Documents released by Snowden confirm that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), a Canadian spy agency, apparently has been using airport WiFi networks to track travelers.

When travelers use their mobile phones or laptops to log-in to these public WiFi networks in Canadian airports, the CSEC can access user metadata and track travelers even after they left the airport, and perhaps as long as a week or more. They can even track travelers’ whereabouts before they arrived at the airport.

While some people think this is illegal under Canadian law, government lawyers have said this kind of surveillance is legal. The Canadian government says it’s not the same as illegally wiretapping phone calls or steaming open letters — “it is data about data, so it is well within the parameters,” Stephen Rigby, the national security adviser to the Prime Minister, recently explained.

Collaboration with the NSA

According to the leaked documents, this tracking operation was a trial run of a powerful spying software that CSEC developed with help from the U.S. National Security Agency.

The CSEC planned on using this software to track specific targets as they traveled around the country. However, this software collected data on all users who logged into the airport wifi network.

The CSEC planned on sharing the collected information with the U.S., the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. In their defense, they claim they wanted to build a picture of the data signatures of public WiFi spots, such as Internet cafes, hotels, and airports in order to track possible terrorists who use the Internet in such places.

Meanwhile, representatives from Canada’s biggest airports, Toronto and Vancouver, issued statements which said they were unaware of this program and did not supply the agency with any personal information.

The New Security State

Most privacy and Internet security experts agree that tracking users and collecting metadata without their consent is outlawed under current Canadian law.

And for those who think that metadata information doesn’t reveal much about you, think again. In some ways, metadata information (such as who you called, how long the conversation lasted, and where you went) is much more powerful than your actual communications, as it can be used to identify your habits, your friendships, and even your political affiliations.

CESC officials have not denied the allegations, and the software is now fully operational.

So if you do not want the Canadian government to track you when you go to Canada, be sure to not use public WiFi at their airports, or make sure you are using a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi. Because what you don’t know can definitely hurt your privacy.

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Jared Howe

Jared Howe is PRIVATE WiFi’s Senior Manager, Product Marketing Communications. Working in high tech for over 15 years, Jared currently lives in Seattle with his wife, daughter, and their two cats.