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Transparency in Surveillance: Role of various intermediaries in facilitating state surveillance transparency

‘Communication’ by urbanfeel (CC BY-ND 2.0) at https://flic.kr/p/4HzMbw

Last year a report that I wrote for the Centre for Law and Democracy was published online. The report, “Transparency in Surveillance: Role of various intermediaries in facilitating state surveillance transparency,” discusses how governments have expanded their surveillance capabilities in an effort to enhance law enforcement, foreign intelligence, and cybersecurity powers and the implications of such expansions. After some of these powers are outlined and the impact on communicating parties clarified, I explore how the voluntary activities undertaken by communications intermediaries can also facilitate government surveillance activities. However, while private companies can facilitate government surveillance they can also facilitate transparency surrounding the surveillance by proactively working to inform their users about government activities. The report concluded by discussing the broader implications of contemporary state surveillance practices, with a focus on the chilling effects that these practices have on social discourse writ large.

Cite as: Parsons, Christopher. (2016). “Transparency in Surveillance: Role of various intermediaries in facilitating state surveillance transparency,” Centre for Law and Democracy. Available at: http://responsible-tech.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Parsons.pdf

Read “Transparency in Surveillance: Role of various intermediaries in facilitating state surveillance transparency

Why We Need to Reevaluate How We Share Intelligence Data With Allies

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Last week, Canadians learned that their foreign signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), had improperly shared information with their American, Australian, British, and New Zealand counterparts (collectively referred to as the “Five Eyes”). The exposure was unintentional: Techniques that CSE had developed to de-identify metadata with Canadians’ personal information failed to keep Canadians anonymous when juxtaposed with allies’ re-identification capabilities. Canadians recognize the hazards of such exposures given that lax information-sharing protocols with US agencies which previously contributed to the mistaken rendition and subsequent torture of a Canadian citizen in 2002.

Tamir Israel (of CIPPIC) and I wrote and article for Just Security following these revelations. We focused on the organization’s efforts, and failure, to suppress Canadians’ identity information that is collected as part of CSE’s ongoing intelligence activities and the broader implications of erroneous information sharing. Specifically, we focus on how such sharing can have dire life consequences for those who are inappropriately targeted as a result by Western allies and how such sharing has led to the torture of a Canadian citizen. We conclude by arguing that the collection and sharing of such information raises questions regarding the ongoing viability of the agency’s old-fashioned mandates that bifurcate Canadian and non-Canadian persons’ data in light of the integrated nature of contemporary communications systems and data exchanges with foreign partners.

Read the Article

Authors

Tamir Israel

Tamir is staff lawyer with the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, where he conducts research and advocacy on various digital rights-related topics, with a focus on online privacy and anonymity, net neutrality, intellectual property, intermediary liability, spam, e-commerce, and consumer protection generally.

Christopher Parsons

Dr. Christopher Parsons received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Guelph, and his Ph.D from the University of Victoria. He is currently the Managing Director of the Telecom Transparency Project and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Citizen Lab, in the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Photo credit: Spies by Kieran Lamb (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/416nVf

More Surveillance Powers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures

Newspapers B&W (5)I co-authored a comment to the editors of the Globe and Mail, “More Surveillance Powers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures,” in response to Christian Leuprecht’s article “Pointing fingers won’t prevent intelligence failures“. Leuprecht asserts that further intelligence sharing is critical to prevent and avoid attacks such as those in Paris, that more trust between intelligence agencies to facilitate international intelligence sharing is needed, and that more resources are needed if particular individuals subject to state suspicion are to be monitored. He also asserted that governments need the powers to act against targeted individuals, and that unnamed ‘critics’ are responsible for the weakening of intelligence agencies and, by extension, for the senseless deaths of innocents that result from agencies’ inabilities to share, monitor, and engage suspicious persons.

The co-authored comment rebuts Leuprecht’s assertions. We point that there is more intelligence collected, now, than ever before. We note that some of the attackers were already known to intelligence and security services. And we note that it was intelligence sharing, itself, that led to the targeting and torture of Maher Arar. In effect, the intelligence community is failing in spite of having the capabilities and powers that Leuprecht calls for; what is missing, if anything, is the ability to transform the intelligence collected today into something that is actionable.

The full comment, first published at the Globe and Mail, is reproduced below:

More Surveillance Powers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures
Re: “Pointing Fingers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures” (Nov 25):

The horrific attacks in Paris have led to a wave of finger-pointing – often powerfully disassociated from the realities of the failures (Pointing Fingers Won’t Prevent Intelligence Failures – Nov 25). The answer from security agencies is inevitably to request more surveillance and more capacity to intrude into citizens’ lives.

These requests are made despite the historically unprecedented access to digital information that security agencies already enjoy and repeated expansions of security powers. Clearly “more security” is not the answer to preventing all future attacks.

The intelligence failure in Paris painted a familiar picture. Many of the attackers were known to French officials, and Turkish intelligence agencies sent repeated warnings of another. Yet in their rush to blame communications technologies such as iPhone encryption and the PlayStation (claims since discredited), security agencies neglect the lack of adequate human intelligence resources and capacities needed to translate this digital knowledge into threat prevention. Also absent is attention to agency accountability – the unaddressed information-sharing problems that caused the mistaken targeting and torture of Maher Arar.

The targets of terror are not only physical, but also ideological. Introducing a laundry list of new powers in response to every incident without regard to the underlying causes will not prevent all attacks, but will leave our democracy in tatters.

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director, BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BCFIPA)

Tamir Israel, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), University of Ottawa

Monia Mazigh, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG)

Christopher Parsons, Postdoctoral Fellow, Citizen Lab at Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

Sukanya Pillay, Executive Director & General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA)

Laura Tribe, Digital Rights Specialist, OpenMedia

Micheal Vonn, Policy Director, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)

Photo credit: Newspapers B&W (5) by Jon S (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/ayGkBN

Stuck on the Agenda: Drawing Lessons from the Stagnation of “Lawful Access” Legislation in Canada

9780776622071_web_1Earlier this year I had a book chapter, titled “Stuck on the Agenda: Drawing Lessons from the Stagnation of “Lawful Access” Legislation in Canada” published in Law, Privacy and Surveillance in Canada in the Post-Snowden Era. The book was edited by Michael Geist and is freely available in .pdf format from the University of Ottawa Press. The edited collection brings together many of Canada’s leading thinkers on privacy and national security issues, with authors outlining how Canadian-driven intelligence operations function, the legal challenges facing Canadian signals intelligence operations, and ways to reform Canada’s ongoing signals intelligence operations and the laws authorizing those operations.

The book arguably represents the best, and most comprehensive, examination of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) in recent history. While not providing insiders’ accounts, many of the chapters draw from access to information documents, documents provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, and publicly available information concerning how intelligence operations are conducted by Canadian authorities. In aggregate they critically investigate the actual and alleged intelligence practices undertaken by Canadian authorities.

My contribution focuses on the politics associated with Canada’s lawful access legislation, and identifies some of the political conditions that may precede successful opposition to legislation that expands or reifies both domestic and foreign intelligence surveillance practices. Specifically, the chapter begins by outlining how agenda-setting operates and the roles of different agendas, tactics, and framings. Next, it turns to the Canadian case and identifies key actors, actions, and stages of the lawful access debates. The agenda-setting literature lets us identify and explain why opponents of the Canadian legislation were so effective in hindering its passage and what the future holds for opposing similar legislative efforts in Canada. The final section steps away from the Canadian case to suggest that there are basic as well as additive general conditions that may precede successful political opposition to newly formulated or revealed government surveillance powers that focus on either domestic or signals intelligence operations. You can read the chapter on pages 256-283.

Download the book from University of Ottawa Press

Image credit: Book Cover from Michael Geist (Ed.) (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) http://www.press.uottawa.ca/law-privacy-and-surveillance

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